This is part one of my interview with Patrik Landberg, exec chef of Charcoal. Part two of our conversation will run in this space tomorrow.
Patrik Landberg had no choice: It was either learn how to cook or succumb to a life of leftovers. "I was thirteen and driving a forklift in Stockholm, but there wasn't one restaurant anywhere near where I was working, so I asked my mom to make me lunch, which was last night's dinner -- and the last thing I wanted was leftovers, so I started making my own lunches," remembers the Swedish-born Landberg, now the executive chef of Charcoal.
"Sometimes they were good, sometimes not so good," he says of those lunches. "Actually, they really weren't good at all." Nonetheless, Landberg enjoyed being the master of his own meals -- enough that he enrolled in culinary school at fifteen. "I discovered that cooking was really fun, and I started thinking about all of the ingredients I was using -- the spices in the cabinet, the bread, the meats -- and I became interested in learning more, so I went to culinary school in Stockholm," he explains. That paved the way for several internships, including line time in a one-star Michelin restaurant and a kitchen whose chef cooked for Nobel Prize heavyweights.
Landberg spent eight years cooking in Stockholm, working every station before taking a sabbatical to Greece, where he gigged at a farm-to-table restaurant. It was a life-changing experience. "We had basil bushes that were four feet tall, beautiful bay-leaf trees and access to the most amazing ingredients and markets. It was just incredible, and it changed the way I thought about cooking," recalls Landberg. "My plan was to cook myself around the world, starting in London, but I didn't have any friends there, and I'd met a guy from New York at sailing camp in Sweden, so I jumped on an airplane and went to New York instead."
He stayed in the Big Apple for nearly ten years, cooking in several restaurants, meeting -- and marrying -- his wife, and undergoing open-heart surgery, which was performed by none other than Dr. Oz. "The now-famous doctor did a good job. He saved my life," says Landberg, whose aortic root was pilfered from a pig. "I still eat pigs, but I feel like a cannibal sometimes," he jokes, noting that he also has a cadaver valve in his body.
The surgery forced Landberg to take a step back from the kitchen and, eventually, New York. "After I recovered, my wife and I had a child and I was working at a great restaurant called Melt in Brooklyn, but I wanted balance. New York was starting to get the best of me, and my brother-in-law lived in Colorado, so we decided to move to Denver," explains Landberg, who originally regretted his decision. "I sent out hundreds of resumés, and no one wanted to hire me. It was so weird, like I had the plague or something."