Favorite restaurant in America: Casa Bonita, but clearly not because of the food. I hadn't been there in twenty years, but I just recently went back, and it was just as visually amazing as I remembered it as a kid. I mean, what other restaurant in America has a full-on waterfall with divers? The details of the place were still amazing to me; the food, however, was amazingly awful.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Mataam Fez. I might be a little biased, because my father started the restaurant, but I think it's what every restaurant should aspire to be like -- a restaurant where you're taken out of your daily comfort zone and thrown into a world that moves all of your senses. Everyone from Mick Jagger to the bandmembers of the B-52's to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Cat Stevens to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were regulars. You'd walk into a fantasy land, take your shoes off, sit on the floor, eat with your hands, get sprayed with rose water, watch belly dancers dancing with huge pythons, and be mesmerized by the servers pouring hot-ass tea into glasses balanced on their forehead -- and you were waited on hand and foot. That's the one thing that I'll always remember: The servers were required to kneel below the customer out of respect. It's not like that any longer. Instead, a lot of places now make you feel as if they're doing you a favor by letting you eat their food and offering service. My dad no longer owns it, but I recently heard that a couple of the servers have bought it and revamped it.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Opening the Uber Sausage. It was a lot of hard work, plus we did it on our own without the help of loans or investors, but it's what I've always wanted to do. I saved a lot of bartending money to open this restaurant.
Favorite celebrity chef: Ming Tsai. I had the chance to eat at his restaurant, Blue Ginger, and when he came out, he was just a cool-ass dude, seriously nicer then you could imagine.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Andrew Zimmern. He just eats. I don't even know if he can cook.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Brian Malarkey. He was the executive chef of Oceanaire, and I used to work right below his restaurant in San Diego before he was on Top Chef. He had the balls to get out of his safe corporate job, and now he's got two very successful restaurants in San Diego. He's got an open kitchen, which is necessary for a complete dining experience; he means business when he works, but he's very approachable; he works the room like a male model; and he understands that when you go to a restaurant, it's not just about the food, it's about the whole environment, experience, meeting your customers and making everyone feel important. Plus, he used to tip me fairly well.
Which chef in Denver do you most respect? Justin Cucci, the chef/owner of Root Down and Linger. I think he's definitely stepped up Denver's game in the restaurant industry.