This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Mark Tarbell. To read part one of that interview, click here.
Culinary inspirations: Chef Fernand Chambrette, the former chef de cuisine -- he passed away in January -- at La Varenne École de Cuisine in Paris. On the surface, he was a grumpy, coarse, hard-ass chef, but in reality, he was a highly educated, subtle and nuanced person. I'm also inspired by hunger, which may sound funny, but the reason I got into cooking as a young child was that I liked to eat -- more often than my mom could actually provide for me. I was also obsessed with flavor. I would cook and/or eat the same thing over and over and over again for weeks -- sometimes months -- until I was fully satiated and fully understood all the textures and quality differentiations. Travel is very, very, very important to me, too. Seeing, tasting and experiencing foods in their indigenous environments is the best way to fully understand the ingredients, the dish, the history and the experience of eating it.
Best food city in America: New York City. There's amazing diversity, knowledge, competition, passion and variety. Sitting at the bar at Babbo with a plate of beef-cheek ravioli with squab liver and black truffles? That's living. Having a cold-cut sandwich at Fiacco on Bleeker Street, a late-night meal of braised rabbit, sloppy Joe style, at Grocery in Brooklyn, the noodles at Matsugen, the burger at Lure Fish Bar in Soho, the sauerkraut-and-sausage special pizza I had at Co.... I could go on and on and on. If you're going to New York, e-mail me; I'm there every eight weeks.
Favorite restaurant in America: That's a tough question for me, for two reasons: I have many favorite restaurants, and while my memory is good, it's also short. That said, I've had the good fortune in my life to have a master sushi chef as both a teacher and mentor. From 1986 to 1991, I ate his food three or four nights a week, every single week. I liked this place because it's hard to find sushi that isn't 100 percent Americanized, and the sushi at this place transformed me. I like Nobu's stuff, with his Peruvian-Los Angeles flair, but it's not pure. I was recently in Maui and ate at this little sushi bar in a nondescript strip center. A friend I trust had suggested we go, so my favorite restaurant this month is Koiso Sushi in Maui. Silver-haired Hiroaki knows his fish and he treats it well. As the great James Beard said, "My favorite restaurant is one that knows me."
Favorite music to cook by: Silence. Hey, I was Euro-trained; I'm old-school.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: Of the many, this is supreme. It was my second day of a stage working for Willie's Wine Bar in Paris, and I was sent downstairs to the cellar to grab some veggies. I slipped and dropped a pan on a case of Domaine du Chevalier Blanc -- the good stuff -- and broke one.
What's never in your kitchen? Tripe. It has no inherent value.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: I've enjoyed great comfort food, sushi, fine dining and pubs in Denver, so I don't know if there even is a need for more of anything. From what I can see, Denver has all the cuisines covered. I can't tell you that they're all good, but they are there. Still, I'd like to see a good ol' Yankee clam shack in Denver. Do we have one? Really, I need to get out more.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Steakhouses. I think we have enough -- and enough good ones. But I don't love steak; I never have.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Passion-driven small restaurants.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: I haven't had a good bialy yet, but I really haven't looked.
Favorite cookbooks: I have a collection of old American cookbooks dating into the late 1800s that have been handed down to me from relatives, which is cool. I also have a nearly complete Gourmet magazine collection starting from the 1940s and a few church cookbooks I've gathered over the years from small New England towns.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I'd like a Food Network show called Under the Apron, where someone would follow a chef to all the festivals, private parties, cooking demos and, most important, to the places where things happen after hours. The closets, walk-ins and pantries would be miked up and filmed. Essentially, I'd be pitching the raunchiest show in cooking. Chefs have become so overexposed that this has to be the final frontier: pool boy meets cook. It's cable, right?
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Something I don't remember when I was on the Island of Borneo, along with blowfish -- yep -- and wood-fired fish heads, eyes and all. I've also eaten grubs and larva in Mexico City, not to mention crickets, which, I guess, means I've eaten lots of weird stuff.
Current Denver culinary genius: I hear from those I trust that it's chef Alex Seidel of Fruition. I'll find out on my next trip to Denver.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Fried egg, white sauce and morel mushrooms.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? Cream, an ample amount of fines herbes, fresh ricotta and white pepper.
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Best culinary tip for a home cook: Relax, have fun and allocate enough time to work slowly.
After-work hangout: Mostly a hotel room these days, or the Corner Office at the Curtis.
What's your favorite knife? A Sugimoto, which is my newest knife, and my 27-year-old Sabatier Pro with brass rivets has been a gentle friend.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Simply Sloppy Joe's, which is a bare-bones joint in Lakewood that's authentic and delicious. I'm also a fan of Tom's Home Cookin' in Five Points for its scoop-and-plop good eats; Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch at Rioja are a great team; Frank Bonanno does noodles really well at Bones; and I like the classic comfort food from Steuben's.