This is part two of my interview with Jimmy Bernat, exec chef of Jimmy's Urban Bar & Grill; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
Which chef has most inspired you? My dad pretty much got me into cooking at a young age and taught me flavor matching, different tastes and how to simply not burn down the house. After that, I'd have to say watching the Boy Meets Grill show with Bobby Flay. That got me really into grilling and experimenting with grilling and slow-cooking meats.
What piece of advice would you give to a young chef? Don't be afraid to experiment or fail at a dish. Some of my best dishes came from mistakes, and isn't a mistake the best form of learning?
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? The ability to work without being babysat, and a staff that doesn't blame others for their mistakes. I also look for staff that has a lot of live, high-volume kitchen experience; I like a good blend of speed.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Not knowing where everything is. I think the most important thing is having a solid grasp of knowing where everything is in your kitchen before getting into live line-cooking action.
Craziest night in the kitchen: It had to be my friends-and-family night at Urban Bliss Cafe, my old restaurant in Broomfield. The kitchen was extremely huge, I was understaffed, we had more people than anticipated by triple, and I think I ran at least two miles just going back and forth between the naanza station and the sauté station, which sat about thirty yards apart.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: It's hard to pinpoint one, but I get a high level of euphoria after any really busy service that might start off rough but gets smoothed out and ends on a high note.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Getting Jimmy's Urban Bar & Grill open in just over a month. I spent sixteen to twenty hours a day working on the place to get it open in May, and while everyone said it was impossible to get open that quickly, I proved them wrong. It's all about hard work.
You're stranded on a desert island. Which chefs would you want to have with you? My head chef, Nate Gravina, because he can whip up some amazing brunch; Bobby Flay for some delicious barbecue; Giada de Laurentiis for the eye candy; and Alton Brown for his makeshift cooking-method abilities.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? I'd love to cook with Mario Batali. His approach to Italian food is just fantastic. I'd really enjoy expanding my Italian cooking knowledge -- and who better than to learn from than Mario?
Favorite dish on your menu: Either the African chicken sandwich or Big Jimmy's beef -- my Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich, which is the best in Denver, in my opinion. Our blue-mussel linguine with housemade noodles and truffle scampi sauce is amazing, too, and so is the chicken and waffles with Crown Royal maple gravy. I guess I like everything on my menu -- that's why it's on there.
Biggest menu bomb: Anytime I try to special an Asian dish, it never sells. I always get great feedback from the few who order it, but it always flops.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Keep it simple; don't go out and spend a bunch of money on ingredients that you'll only use once. Try to use what you have on hand paired with fresh meats and vegetables. I love shopping at Sprouts and Whole Foods for this reason.
Last meal before you die: Simple saltine crackers with Tillamook cheese, barbecued-duck fried rice, pepper Jack Alfredo over pappardelle noodles, Italian fried chicken, crawfish étoufée and our Jack 'n' Coke bread pudding to finish. Hey, if I'm going out, might as well go out with a smorgasbord of deliciously bad-for-you food.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way? Food trucks and street vendors. I think proving that you can have a great meal for an inexpensive price that's easy to eat on the go makes even the brick-and-mortar restaurants compete with that price point and food quality. And I love the fact that some really creative, great chefs are doing some awesome food from very small kitchens inside of a truck.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? I've honestly never purchased a cookbook, and I don't do much in the way of recipes, either. Usually, I see -- or eat -- a dish somewhere that I really enjoy, and I prepare it with my own spin.
Describe the challenges facing today's chefs: Keeping food costs down for customers. With all the problems with dry seasons, produce and meat prices just seem to keep going up.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Having to repeat myself more than twice. I swear my beautiful girlfriend, Christine, pretends she doesn't hear me just to get under my skin. That, and when drivers don't use their turn signal.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I enjoy the occasional chick flick from time to time, but usually keep that to myself. Oops, I guess that secret is out.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I'm not sure...maybe a car salesman, or something in sales.
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What's in the pipeline? Just building my two current businesses: Jimmy's Urban Bar & Grill and Urban Chefs Catering. I'm really looking to purchase a building on the outskirts of downtown Denver for my catering commissary so I can build my custom catering business. I'm also planning a small remodel of Jimmy's Urban Bar & Grill to finish all the things I couldn't get done prior to opening -- the booths and exposing the natural brick walls, for example. We've gotten some comments about our decor looking like Chipotle, so I want to fix some of the elements that I believe are creating the comparison.