This is part two of my interview with Dave Lindberg, exec chef of Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal in Denver that you've ever had: My going-away dinner at Luca d'Italia. I was the pasta chef there at the time and was leaving to go to Seattle for a job opportunity. The former chef, Hunter Pritchett, who's now in L.A., and I always talked about the classic dishes that will never die -- lobster thermidor, Coquille St.-Jacques, crab-stuffed mushroom with sauce béarnaise -- so for my last dinner, he sent out fourteen courses that consisted of these fine classics, but he also sent out dishes that were completely unexpected: Red Bull sorbet with vodka poured over it was a life-changer. I've never been so satisfied and honored all at once. It was an awesome experience that I'll never forget. What a great sendoff.
See also: - Dave Lindberg, exec chef of Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria, on the magic of mayo - Photos: Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria opening in Park Meadows Saturday - Exclusive first look: Frank Bonanno's Vesper Lounge opens tonight
Your five favorite Denver/Boulder restaurants other than your own: It's so hard to choose just five, but the ones that come to mind are Sushi Den, True Food Kitchen, the Bagel Deli, D'Corazon and Snooze. I love Sushi Den for the monkfish liver and when I'm looking to satisfy my sashimi craving. In fact, I haven't had a single thing there that I don't like or won't eat. I go to True Food Kitchen when I'm looking to recharge from a long week, plus they have the best kale salad. If only there were more locations than just Cherry Creek.... The Bagel Deli is simple food made with love, and I crave their classic Reuben. D'Corazon has the best mole and carnitas, and their margaritas don't suck, either. Snooze satisfies my taste for breakfast, plus I love how creative they are. I try something different every time I eat there and haven't been disappointed yet. The common theme with all of these restaurants is that they're all consistent -- consistently delicious.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? It would be nice to have healthy late-night dining options. You realize just how limited your options are with the hours that we work in this industry. I've been going to the Vesper Lounge quite a bit because it's open late and they have awesome hummus. The people there are pretty cool, too.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? Making people happy, satisfying their cravings, and giving them an experience to remember by sharing my point of view on cooking.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way? Social media. Food, drinks, menus and dining experiences are all shared in the click of a button. Good or bad, everyone has access to everything, and people can say and post whatever they want.
Best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given: During my first year at Luca d'Italia, I received a hand-forged Japanese knife with my name engraved on it in Japanese letters. Frank Bonanno gave all of us these personalized knives for Christmas, and to this day, I've never received such a cool gift. I still use it all the time.
Fantasy splurge: Eating and drinking my way around the world would be an awesome experience -- just the ability to discover the different foods, drinks and cooking techniques that every place has to offer. I'd eventually come back and open up my own place.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? The Bouchon Bakery cookbook. I wanted to learn more about baking techniques -- breads, pastries and cookies -- and Thomas Keller knows his shit.
Favorite cooking show: Food Hospital, a British show on the Cooking Channel. I believe that food can have medicinal qualities and can help people fight disease and live longer, healthier lives. Obesity and other preventable diseases have become all too common, and this show focuses on how you can improve -- or even cure -- certain health issues just by changing the way you eat.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Mise en place. Prep and measure everything ahead of time, just like you're doing a cooking show. It helps execute the recipe faster.
What is the best compliment someone could give you? Everything was awesome! We'll be back tomorrow.
What's your biggest pet peeve? I have two: whistling and showing up late to work without calling.
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: Dealing with the constant rising costs of everything from soup to nuts while staying in budget is an obvious challenge. An even bigger challenge that chefs face is producing delicious food that's good for us -- and the Earth -- while adapting to all of the allergies and dietary restrictions and still making it accessible and affordable.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Not communicating effectively. It's important on the line to communicate with one another, especially if it's busy. Not asking for help when you need it can also cause problems.
You're stranded on a desert island. Which chefs would you want to have with you? Anthony Bourdain, because he's been around the world and would have good stories to tell, plus he knows how to party; Andrew Zimmern, because he can find food in the strangest places; and Padma Lakshmi, who could judge our cooking competitions. We have to do something to kill time on the island, right?
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? The Iron Chef kitchen would be my dream kitchen, not only because you have access to all of the newest cooking gadgets, but because you could constantly try new cooking techniques and better yourself. Life is a competition.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: Saturday night, 7:30, on a wait, killing it in the kitchen. I love the high when you're in the zone on a busy night and everyone is in sync. No one really needs to say anything; everything is just anticipated.
Craziest night in the kitchen: Probably the night my lowboy became unplugged. All of the fresh pasta that I had just prepared for Saturday-night service was in it. The pasta was ruined, and I had to remake everything from scratch. And to make matters worse, I was still prepping when we opened for service. Every day in the kitchen is crazy; you just learn to roll with it.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? Previous experience is helpful, but someone who's focused, confident, asks questions, makes eye contact and has a good attitude is paramount. You can always teach someone techniques, but you can't teach character.
What piece of advice would you give to a young chef? Be confident in yourself; ask questions; ask for help if you need it; and don't take things too personally. In this industry, you have to have thick skin.
If you had the opportunity to open a restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? A self-sustaining, rustic fine-dining restaurant located on the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state. It would be a farm-and-sea-to-table concept that focuses on fresh Pacific seafood and an on-site farm with fresh produce. There would be an on-site distillery, too.
What's your idea of a great dining experience? Good food, wine and service from start to finish.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Opening Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria and being asked to be the executive chef. I'm fortunate in that I got to work for Frank and Jacqueline at Luca, go to Seattle for a job that wasn't, and then come back and be greeted with open arms by my "family" and pick up right where I left off. I'm as comfortable hand-rolling pasta at Luca as I am throwing pizza dough at Bonanno Brothers.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I used to live on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean, just 56 steps from the ocean. I only left because Hurricane Ivan hit us and everything was destroyed; I lost everything. It was one of the most humbling experiences I have been through. Life is precious, and I'm lucky to be alive.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I studied recreational management in college, so I'd probably be doing something sports-related. Growing up, I played all sports, was the high-school quarterback and played football in college. I'd love to coach and have always wanted to be an inner-city mentor for at-risk children. I think sports have a positive impact on all kids.
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What's in the pipeline? Just focusing on being the best pizzeria in Park Meadows.