Cafe Society

Part two: Interstate Kitchen + Bar chef Andre Lobato

Andre Lobato Interstate Kitchen + Bar 901 West Tenth Avenue 720-479-8829

This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Andre Lobato. To read part one of this interview, click here.

Culinary inspirations: Every person who I've had the opportunity to work with and learn from, as well as my mother, who taught me to scramble an egg when I was five.

Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Having the opportunity to open my own place with my brother and best friend so early in my career was really great; not being beholden to someone else is also a great thing. We did this restaurant on our own, with our own vision, and not too many guys my age get to open their own restaurants with no strings attached. Suffice it to say, I'm lucky and fortunate, and the fact that I get to work with my family -- with the people I love -- is pretty cool.

Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Work hard, work clean, respect the food and respect the guest -- even when it seems impossible to do. Beyond that, I don't like anyone sticking their knives in the sanitizer bucket; I had a buddy who almost lost his finger that way. It also drives me crazy when there are dirty towels everywhere; you shouldn't need more than four for your shift. And close the frickin' doors, for God's sake.

Favorite restaurant in America: There are so many great places at which I've been fortunate to eat -- everywhere from Zuni Cafe in San Francisco and Daniel in New York to A.O.C. in Los Angeles Ñ that it's nearly impossible to pick just one. But I will say this: Go to the Oak Room in Boston, have a tableside Caesar salad and a martini -- and tell me you don't feel like a pimp. It's just like the most regal place you've ever been, with maître d's in tuxes and servers in cummerbunds, but there's nothing remotely cheesy about it.

Best food city in America: It's got to be New York. It has the money, the competition and the immigrant traditions that allow food to be elevated to the pinnacle of expression, whether it's a $300 prix fixe dinner, a pastrami sandwich or something off a sidewalk cart. Any other answer other than New York is just an attempt to be clever.

Favorite music to cook by: I love music. My sister is a professional opera singer who met her husband in conservatory, and my brother is a graduate of music school. Next to food and art, music is one of life's great pleasures. So anything goes in my kitchen, but growing up in Colorado, there was always mariachi music drifting in tinny warbles from the dish pit.

What's the best food or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A twelve-inch Henckels chef's knife that I got when I was fifteen. It was my first knife, and I still have it today.

Favorite dish on your menu: Deep-fried chicken livers, because I like to see people get excited about something they thought they might hate. It's a "dare food," and you can never have too many "dare foods" on your menu.

If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? Liver and onions, or a tongue sandwich.

Guiltiest food pleasure? Funyuns and Chocolate Moo.

You're making a hamburger. What's on it? I love burgers. You can put anything on them, and even when they're bad, they're good. Bacon, mustard and mayo is a must, while a fried egg, tomato, grilled onions and mushrooms are a probably.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of? I buy two pounds of butter, because everything is better with butter.

Best culinary tip for a home cook: Don't be afraid to screw up: Burn stuff, buy weird produce, experiment, experiment, experiment. That's the only true way to learn how to cook.

If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Escoffier. Here was a man who obviously loved his craft but was primarily familiar with French cuisine. It would be fun to make pho, tagine chicken, sushi, huitlacoche tamales and liquid-nitrogen caviar for him -- and then watch his reaction.

Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Mezcal. My girl is the general manager there, and it feels like walking into my own living room; it's like going home. They also make a mean margarita, and there will always be a soft spot in my Hispanic heart for tequila.

Favorite celebrity chef: Wolfgang Puck. California Pizza Kitchen and frozen pizza aside, this man redefined what it meant to be a chef in this country. Without him, there would be no Ramsay, Batali or Flay, and we'd likely still be choosing between steak, French or Italian food with a choice of soup or salad. The food coming out of Spago is still excellent to this day, despite what I'm sure is a very full work schedule. We should all know where we came from and show respect.

Celebrity chef who should shut up: Freakin' Todd English. I don't need your name to be twice the size of the restaurant's name on the front door. It's like Tyler Perry and his movies: I get it; you made it. Who gives a shit? If it's a good restaurant, it's a good restaurant.

What's your favorite knife? A Global twelve-inch flexible slicer that has its tip broken off. Now it's a ten-inch custom job. I use it like a sushi blade and draw instead of chop. The control is amazing.

Hardest lesson you've learned: No matter what we try to tell ourselves, the restaurant industry is not really about food. It's escapism, much like going to the movies or taking a vacation. You need to be able to deliver an experience on every level that resonates with your guests, which makes me divide my resources and energy among food, hospitality, concept, atmosphere and vibe. This business is so multi-faceted that you can't have tunnel vision.

What's next for you? Maybe my first vacation in three years. I haven't had more than two days off in two years, although the constant excitement over new project ideas probably means even more work and less sleep on the horizon. At some point, I'd love to do a Northern European restaurant or a Portuguese restaurant.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson