Proudest moment as a chef: When I won the National Pork Award in May of 2008. I had won the state pork competition in December 2007 and went on to San Diego to compete against twenty other regional or state winners, and I won the contest and $5,000. I made cumin-roasted pork loin, braised pork shoulder and a green chile pozole cake with a smooth avocado sauce and red chile. I was completely on my own, while everyone else had at least one or two other people helping out. I knew that the only person I could blame if I screwed up was me, but I was totally in the zone and so in tune with myself that day; I knew I was doing the right thing, that everything was coming together and that there was no second-guessing myself. I have no doubt that being in that state of mind translated into winning.
Best food city in America: There are more great restaurants in New York than any other city in the United States. San Francisco is up there, too, but New York has absolutely everything. You can get a killer hot dog for two bucks and then go to La Bernardin for one of the best meals in the country.
Favorite New York restaurant: Chanterelle. From the moment I walked in to the moment I left, it was an amazing dining experience. It's so obvious that the staff loves what they do and wants to share that passion with their guests. I was blown away when I ate here, and I can't wait to go back.
Denver has the best: Underrated food scene in the country. We have so much passion and creativity here. We have the ability to get the same ingredients that the best restaurants in the country have access to. The caliber of chefs that have been here a while have continued to raise the bar. Just look at guys like Sean Yontz, who's built this amazing Hispanic food culture in Denver.
Denver has the worst: Comfort food. Aside from Steuben's, there's just not any killer diners in Denver. Breakfast King is good, but it ain't that good. I'd love to see a 24/7 diner that served the best chicken-fried steak and eggs. I can't find good chicken-fried steak and eggs in this town. And believe me, I've looked.
Favorite Denver restaurant other than your own: Fruition. It's simply a small beautiful restaurant where the food and service are a cut above. This is the kind of restaurant that most chefs would love to have. I know I'm a little jealous.
Current Denver culinary genius: David Query. He may be more recognizable in Boulder than in Denver, but he has the best group of independent restaurants in the country. He's amazing at getting more out of people than they ever knew they had.
Favorite music to cook by: Widespread Panic! Their music is so soulful, passionate and groovy. It totally gets me going in the kitchen.
After-work hangout: Milwaukee Street Tavern. It's Corky Douglass's place, and he works the room beautifully, just like he did when he owned Tante Louise. I love the strong drinks, and they make a perfect vodka and soda.
Favorite cookbook: It's a tie between Chanterelle: The Stories and Recipes of a Restaurant Classic, by David Waltuck and Boulevard: The Cookbook, by Nancy Oakes. Both books speak to my food philosophies. The recipes and flavors make sense to me because they're simple and not overworked.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? Chefs and Cooks vs. Managers and Servers. I'd have the chefs and cooks running the dining room and the managers and servers running the kitchen for dinner service. It would be so chaotic that it'd make for great entertainment, especially the part about me not being able to serve food.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: As a kid I tried poached beef heart. I don't remember liking it at all.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Charred ramps, cured and grilled fresh anchovies, green olives, extra virgin olive oil and Pecorino. Salty goodness.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? White truffles, grilled asparagus, melted leeks and fresh mozzarella.
Culinary inspirations: My wife, Jen, because she really gets what I'm trying to do in the kitchen and she totally appreciates my cooking, some of which I learned from my mom, who was an excellent cook. She made the best fried chicken and roast beef, and she'd let me experiment in her kitchen when I was a kid, which made me love cooking. On the other hand, my dad wasn't into me becoming a chef at all, and it took him a while to come around, but now whenever I cook for him, he really spurs me on and we even cook dinner together. Mel and Janie Master really inspired me, too, by always telling me to read and to buy cookbooks -- even the ones you don't think you want to read. They were so instrumental in showing me what great food was and sending me to the best restaurants in the world. And they taught me how to become a better human being. They pissed me off by being so demanding and crazy, but by being that way, they helped me to grow as a chef and in my own personal life. But even before that, back in the early '90s when I was at college at the University of Colorado, John Platt and David Query gave me a job at Q's as a line cook -- and those guys kicked my ass. They knew that I was green, but I was also a sponge, and they taught me how to create menus and produce, produce, produce. It was an awesome experience working with such passionate and progressive chefs.
Hardest lesson you've learned: Assuming that everything's good, all the time. You have to trust the people that you work with, but at the end of the day, the person you have to trust the most is yourself. And you've got to take responsibility for your mistakes. I've learned that I'm only as good as my last plate of food and that I've got to take criticism without getting angry. Humility is so important. I tried to be perfect in the kitchen, but you know what? I'm not, so I make mistakes, learn from them and don't take anything for granted next time.