This is part two of my interview with Andy Martinez, exec chef of Citron New World Bistro. Part one of that interview ran in this space yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: I don't travel as much I'd like to, but in Chicago, there's a place called Angie's Pizzeria that I love. They have a lattice-topped spinach-and-ricotta deep-dish pizza that's incredible.
Best food city in America: Chicago. There are so many different cuisines, and you can get everything from a hot dog on the street to outrageous, cutting-edge food at Alinea. There's something there for everyone.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: The Hispanic community has dozens and dozens of small taquerias that line the streets, and I think that chefs could do the same thing with inexpensive American-style food stands or corner cafés -- the American equivalent of a taqueria. I've always wanted to have a sandwich place called the "Dip Hut," too, where all of the sandwiches are either dipped -- or served with dipping sauces. Denver needs a boost from fun little independent eateries with delicious food -- and we need to take over the street corners from the corporate beasts.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Mexico City Lounge. I love the fried tacos with a cold beer. It doesn't get any better than that.
Current Denver culinary genius: Chuck James, the chef from 1515 Restaurant, is remarkable, and really cutting-edge with his molecular gastronomy.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Because of my Hispanic heritage, and his talent for gourmet Mexican food, it would be Rick Bayless. I know we'd enjoy the time spent cooking together.
Favorite celebrity chef: Alton Brown. He breaks everything down -- it's all about the science of food, which is interesting, and I love his quirky personality.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: The chick on the Cooking Channel's Bitchin' Kitchen. She actually does some cool stuff on the show, but her voice -- the New York accent -- if I had to spend ten minutes with her, I'd have to stuff a sock in her mouth. Keep cooking, but shut up.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I'd like to do an international food show, whereby every day, I'd change my protein or vegetable to reflect a different country or region. I'd do a chicken theme one week, but every day, I'd prepare that chicken to reflect a recipe from a different country. You'd never see the same thing twice, but you'd learn a bunch of different ways to prepare one main ingredient.
Are chefs artists, craftsmen or both? The ability to adjust your recipes and create a "wow" plate that a customer thinks is too beautiful to disturb is artistry. The ability to work as a team when the pressure is on, keep your cool, and produce that same plate consistently -- that's craftsmanship. A good chef accomplishes both.
One book that every chef should read: I think the book that every chef should read is his own book that he writes at the end of his career.
What's the best food or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A KitchenAid mixer. With its many attachments, we've made pastas, breads, different pizza doughs, sausage, endless numbers of cakes and pastries, and countless batches of cookies.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Take a recipe, pull out two ingredients and replace those ingredients with a couple of things that you've chosen. If it's something that you already have in your spice cabinet, pantry or fridge, then you must like it. Bottom line: experiment, don't follow recipes to a tee, make what you like, and enjoy it.
What's your favorite knife? My six-inch Wüsthof Santoko knife. It never looses its edge, and it's my go-to knife for most of my slicing and dicing. It's great, too, for julienning vegetables and to chiffonade herbs.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Olive oil, heirloom tomatoes, red onions, feta cheese, fresh jalapeños and a sprinkle of sea salt.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Two whole fishes from H Mart.
Guiltiest food pleasure? I'm a sucker for sweets -- for ooey-gooey, cakey, messy chocolate fun. Don't even get me started, because I'm looking for something like that right now.
Culinary inspirations: My father. While I was growing up, he was a chef at the Copper Kitchen, a diner that used to be on West Colfax, and he also used to cook for us all the time at home. My mom was a good cook, too, but dad would always make fried chicken and short ribs -- and they're still as good now as they were then. He was a really hard worker, always in charge of the kitchen, and his knowledge of food was amazing. He was pretty much the driving force behind my wanting to get into the culinary world.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: My first executive-chef position at Off Belleview Grill, which is long gone, gave me the opportunity to create my own recipes and menus for the first time, and during the first weekend that I rolled out my first menu, I was called out to a large party, which gave me a standing ovation. The reason I continue to be an executive chef is because of moments like these. There's immense satisfaction in knowing that people are enjoying my food. It means a lot to me.
Hardest lesson you've learned, and how you've changed because of it: If you can't give your kitchen your all, then you shouldn't be in the kitchen at all. The hardest lesson I've learned is that you have to sacrifice kids, family and hobbies to actually be in the kitchen -- but if you're a chef, that's where you need to be.
Last meal before you die: Pozole. I love this Spanish-style soup with hominy, neck bones, chopped red onions, cilantro, shredded cabbage, and my Aunt Sadie's homemade tortillas.