Best food city in America: Portland or Seattle. They both have such great earth-to-plate cultures, and because they're right on the Pacific Ocean, you can get the best cold-water fish, awesome oysters, great salmon and halibut -- the best of everything, really. Plus, you have all the local foragers coming to your back door.
Proudest moment as a chef: While I was the executive chef of Old Blinking Light, I was invited to cook at the James Beard House by Wrede. Having the opportunity to cook in the culinary mecca of the United States, for the elite of the elite, in such an intimate environment, was absolutely amazing.
Favorite music to cook by: The Stones. Their music takes me back to my childhood.
Best recent food find: The menudo at La Hacienda, a carnicería at I-25 and Evans that I discovered a little while back. I grew up eating menudo, and their menudo more than satisfies my cravings.
Favorite restaurant in America: The Spotted Pig in New York. There are a lot of restaurants around the country that are killing it, but the Spotted Pig gets my vote because they don't bring an ego or sliding scale of importance to their menu. We obviously looked at the Spotted Pig before we opened Argyll, since it's also a gastropub, and what we discovered is that they take as much pride in selling a hamburger as they do a grilled quail. I like and respect that. The food is awesome, and it's a really cool, hip spot with a great vibe. I'd love to bring that vibe to Denver.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: When I first got started in the business, my chef told me to drain the stock from the stock pot that had been cooking all day. I drained the stock...by throwing it all away and saving all the bones instead. What can I say? I was naive and didn't know anything about a professional kitchen. But there it was, a week's worth of hard work, all gone.
What's never in your kitchen? Idleness. That's the one thing that drives me crazy. We all have a job to do, and there's no hierarchy in the kitchen, so your job isn't done until every station is finished. In other words, don't walk outside and have a cigarette if someone else in the kitchen needs help.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: I really dig the diversity of ethnic food in Denver, especially since we're smack-dab in the middle of America.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Culinary reputation. Despite what the cynics say, we're not behind the eight ball when it comes to great restaurants, but the fact that so many people, both here and elsewhere, still perceive us an unsophisticated cowtown pisses me off. Just look at all the cool stuff we're doing at Argyll with charcuterie: housemade duck prosciutto, gin-cured salmon gravlax, homemade sauerkraut...lamb tartare. That kind of food is hardly mundane.
Favorite cookbooks: Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, and The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. For me, it's just as important to know why a recipe doesn't work as it is to know why it does work, and since I come from the school of hard knocks and have no formal education, cookbooks are essential to me.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I'd like to interview a bunch of culinary-school guys every year for five, ten years to see how their careers grew or sunk -- to watch what happens to them along the way. It would be really cool to see how their cooking philosophies changed over the years with new skills and experiences.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Haggis. We recently did a dinner at Argyll and haggis was the main dish. It's made up of offal meats like lamb kidneys, heart and tongue. It tasted delicious, and we sold a bunch of it, but I still don't want it around.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Purple onions, niçoise olives, capicola, jalapeños, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? Leeks, chanterelles, Swiss chard and mascarpone cheese.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? It depends on what my girl wants for dinner. But when it's up to me, I get two bottles of Bordeaux.
Weirdest customer request: A female customer once asked me if I'd like to meet her in her hotel room in three hours. I said no, but not because I didn't want to; I had to meet someone else in three hours instead.
After-work hangout: Are you kidding? We're still in the first year here at Argyll, so going out is the shot of Irish whiskey and a Carlsberg on my way out the door every night before going home to see my girl.
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SHOW ME HOW
If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? I'd love to cook for James Beard, just because I think his feedback would be really interesting. But, honestly, I just want to cook for anyone who appreciates it.
What's your favorite knife? Can't beat a Wüsthof classic chef's knife; it's the workhorse of the kitchen.
Hardest lesson you've learned: Patience is the hardest lesson to learn in the kitchen. As chefs, we work so hard, and it often takes a long time to get any credit. We have to be patient when it comes to getting recognition, and I've learned that I've got to find fulfillment in cooking for myself, because the outside world sometimes takes its own sweet time in noticing. You hardly ever see instant gratification in this business.