Cafe Society

Part two: Chef and Tell with Second Home's Jeff Bolton

This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Second Home Kitchen + Bar chef Jeff Bolton. To read part one of that Q&A, click here

Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Have fun, don't screw around when it's business time, and be proud of every plate that you serve. I also hate slobs, and if people don't label things correctly and put things away in their proper place, it drives me nuts. Oh...and when people put things away without the label facing the front? Hate that, too. And I hate waste. Can I mention one more thing? I get irritated when some front of the house staff comes and grabs something out of the kitchen without telling us. When that happens, the manager gets an earful.

Favorite restaurant in America: I love so many restaurants, so it's hard to nail down just one. For me, restaurants are places to enjoy great food, but to also enjoy the company of my friends. For breakfast, my favorite joint is the Pork Store Cafe in San Francisco. They have a dish called "Eggs in a Tasty Nest," and it's just this amazing, messy-ass plate of food that's so good, especially when you're suffering from a hangover. The best dinner experience I've ever had was at Michael Mina in the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I was working at Knobhill in the MGM Grand and got a hookup from the chefs at Michael Mina, and the service and the food were incredible.

Best food city in America: There's everything and anything you would ever want in San Francisco. I'm a huge fan of street food, and the Mission District in San Francisco has the most amazing tacos ever. My brothers and I love to go on taco crawls where we have a beer and a taco in as many of the Mission District taquerías as possible -- or until we just can't take it any longer. Then we just move on to more beer.

Favorite music to cook by: Journey on Pandora radio. I totally rock the '80s. I sing and dance in the kitchen while I have the radio going, but no one else can really hear it, so everyone thinks I'm just singing to myself.

Biggest kitchen disaster: While doing a tasting for an executive chef position at the Corner Office a few years back, I went a little off the deep end and tried out a whole bunch of food that I wasn't entirely comfortable with -- including pad Thai. I made it for a large group, and the response from the panel was that, while they agreed that most of the food was good, they hated the pad Thai. Some guy actually said that he wouldn't feed it to his dog. Apparently, that's how bad it was. I stood there and took the criticism, and at the end of the interview process, I told the panel that if they gave me this position, the next time they came into the restaurant, I'd make sure that I had the best pad Thai in the city. Believe it or not, I ended up with the job.

What's never in your kitchen? Bad attitudes. We all get along well in my kitchen, and there aren't any egos. The notion that chefs have to be assholes in order to motivate their crew is a thing of the past.

What's always in your kitchen? Music, laughter and me.

What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: More self-described foodies taking risks and leaving their comfort zone.

What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Gimmicky restaurants. A perfect example is the Tilted Kilt, which is nothing more than an upscale Hooters. Even worse are gimmicky restaurants that don't work.

You're making a hamburger. What's on it? Hickory smoked cheddar, lots of bacon, nice, thick-sliced heirloom tomatoes, raw onions, pickles and a ton of ketchup.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of? I've always got to buy a lot of different hot sauces. Sometimes food is just a vessel for more hot sauce -- Cholula, Tapatío and Sriracha. I'll admit that I'm a huge condiment freak.

Weirdest customer request: A customer having a breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast asked for hot peppers -- specifically, five habanero peppers. The customer is always right, so I gave him a side of our chocolate-colored habaneros, and then I sat and watched him take a bite of eggs, a slurp of coffee, and then he'd pop an habanero in his mouth and eat the whole thing. I can't imagine anything worse than eating an habanero pepper and then chasing it with coffee. Awful.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: My executive sous chef, Denis Zvekic, aka "Big Daddy D," is from Croatia, and every Sunday, he goes hardcore Eastern Front on a pig's head. He throws down the brain, cheeks, eyeballs, and he even takes down the kidneys. With Denis around, I don't have to try all the crazy stuff, because he tries it all for me. The problem arises when I ask him how it tastes, and he always says, "Delicious," so then I have to give it a shot, and most of the time, he's wrong.

One book that every chef should read: Devil in the Kitchen, by Marco Pierre White. It's full of raw, gritty passion. During a time when chefs were driven by drugs and booze, this guy was driven by food. Plus, he's crazy, and every chef is a little crazy.

If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Frenchman Fernand Point. Any chef who starts his day in the garden of his restaurant with a shave and a magnum of champagne would be fun to cook for, but hanging out with that guy would be even more awesome.

Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: There are a ton of great restaurants in Denver, but if I had to pick one, it would be Osteria Marco. It's the kind of restaurant that chefs like to eat at on their day off. There's no fuss or pretense -- just housemade Italian classics done right. The staff is friendly, too, and it seems like they've all been there since the day the restaurant opened, which says a lot.

Favorite celebrity chef: Alton Brown, because he actually teaches people how to cook food. There's not much glamour to what he does, but he really gets behind the science of cooking, which is cool.

Celebrity chef who should shut up: Rachael Ray. Oh wait, you said chef. Hell, you could line up her, Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Sandra Lee and Guy Fieri on a dartboard and just throw one dart. They should all shut up.

What's your favorite knife? My ten-inch MAC chef knife holds a great edge. It was a gift from the chef who did the James Beard House dinner with me.

Hardest lesson you've learned: I was taught when I was a young culinarian that sometimes you just need to slow down and really be proud of everything that you serve -- that it's not a race or a competition. People are here to enjoy our food, and we put way too much work into getting it right to just throw it out of the kitchen. In a business that moves 100 miles per hour, it's important to take a deep breath and just remember what we're all here for: to create amazing food and show how hospitable chefs and restaurants can be.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson