Cafe Society

Root Down's Justin Cucci dishes on pot, pussy and soup talk

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Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Lately, Noosa Yogurt, Bliss coconut-chocolate chip ice cream and Big B's Ginger Apple Cooler drink, all from Whole Foods.

Favorite spice: Piment d'Espelette -- a Basque pepper. It's delicate, yet adds a great depth of flavor. It's great on veggies and fish, and it has a pleasant heat to it but never overwhelms. Blah, blah, blah to the food words, descriptions and opinions: Just try it -- you'll like it.

Best recent food find: Biker Jim's reindeer dog. It's ridiculously addictive, plus he always tells me it's vegetarian so I don't have to feel guilty.

What's never in your kitchen? Pussies.

What's always in your kitchen? Pussy. I'm totally pro-female in the kitchen.

Favorite music to cook by: The music of a full restaurant bustling with hungry guests -- and all the lovely music made by the energy in a busy restaurant.

Rules of conduct in your kitchen: I've got a few choice quotes to answer this: "The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism"; "The strength of a man's virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts"; "If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude"; "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work"; "Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work"; and "Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it." In my own words, take the job seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously.

Biggest kitchen disaster: Cleaning -- and emptying -- 35 pounds of still-warm oil out of the fryer and into the container it came in, then lifting it by the handle and having the bottom melt out, essentially dropping a bomb made of hot oil all over the place. Cleaning five gallons of fryer oil off a kitchen floor took days -- and it sucked and was a disaster, and it was during a Key West summer, where the temperature was well over 300 degrees at night in December.

Weirdest customer request: Seriously, there's nothing that stands out. We get a lot of special requests because of allergies and the like, but the requests don't bother me -- nor do I keep track, because my staff and I are there to do whatever it takes to serve the guest. It's a simple formula. Plus, we have a safe word -- unicorn -- in case a guest's request involves S&M or bondage, so within those parameters, nothing is weird...except, of course, snowballing. We need to draw the line somewhere.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson