This is part two of my interview. Part one of my interview with Eric Uffelmann, exec chef of Marlowe's, ran yesterday.
How do you handle customer complaints -- and what should customers do when they're peeved about a dish? I immediately speak with the guest and solve the problem, then go above and beyond expectations. That said, customers are responsible for reading the menu extensively and asking questions, although some questions are better than others. A woman came in recently who didn't know that halibut was a fish.
What are your thoughts on social review sites, like Yelp, OpenTable and Urbanspoon? It is what it is, and for better or worse, we live in a world where everyone gets to put their own two cents in. That said, if you have a legitimate complaint or accolade, why not tell someone at the restaurant? And if you do decide to write something on a review site, at least make a conscious effort to make the review useful for everyone. Writing "The patio was hot in the middle of summer in Denver" is not useful. If you feel like bashing something, or someone, just remember that the phrase of the day is "constructive criticism."
Biggest compliment you've ever received: People from the coast praising the pristine quality and preparation of our seafood.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A nine-day vacation to Seattle, Portland and British Columbia with Eric Rivera, the chef at Cafe|Bar. He booked it for us, and our owners ended up paying for the trip, which was a great gesture. And not only was it an amazing culinary trip, where we got to check out all the foods of the Pacific Northwest, but we also ended up flying first class. It was seriously one of the best trips ever.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Broccoli rabe, homemade Italian ring sausage, pepperoni, garlic oil, mozzarella, and fresh herb-plum tomato fresca.
Guiltiest food pleasure: Fur seal. I don't feel guilty -- it's food we're supposed to eat. We should save the guilt for when we really do something wrong. By the way, I'm just kidding about the fur seal thing...unless someone has a connection for it. Okay, my real guilty pleasure is pretzels. I love pretzels.
Weirdest customer request: Nothing really stands out. People like what they like -- that's the beauty of food. The only thing that really struck me as odd was when a customer claimed to be allergic to salt. That's impossible. I didn't get mad; I just laughed and then cooked the food using no salt and pepper.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: While I was on a fishing trip, I had raw codfish eye from Georges Banks. It was kind of like squid ink and really salty and chewy. We were bored.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Don't let yourself get frustrated. Cooking isn't the hard part; it's the fun part. For proof, just look at Julia Child: She made mistakes and she still had a blast. Cooking is a pleasure in life, and we should enjoy the learning experience. How many times did you have to write the letter "a" in cursive before you got it right? Now, if you throw in managing people or kids, then it becomes interesting.
One book that every chef should read: Any book by Julia Child -- it doesn't matter which one. I can't give her enough respect; she's just amazing. I met her once, and I shook like crazy. She's the only person who's ever made me speechless. And she's funnier than shit.
Favorite music to cook by: I don't allow music unless it's extremely slow. It's way too much of a distraction, and we really don't need any more racket in the kitchen.
Favorite dish to cook at home: Any pasta dish -- I especially love lasagna -- with a tomato salad, spot-on Italian bread and a nice large glass of a robust Italian red.
Favorite dish on your menu: I don't really have one, mainly because I'm erratic, and I get bored really easily. It's the learning that I love -- and I love change.
If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? An Ipswich clam belly roll. We've tried to sell it before...and nothing. I think people were totally creeped out by it because it doesn't look like the clam strips at Howard Johnson's.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Eric Ripert's. He works with beautiful seafood and prepares it with equally beautiful simplicity.
Which chef in Denver do you most respect? Elise Wiggins, the chef at Panzano, consistently turns out a tremendous product.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: I've lived this long. Doing this job is taxing, unforgiving, and it's a difficult path. I'm pretty proud that I've made it this far. Favorite celebrity chef: Alton Brown. He's classy, knowledgeable and not self-absorbed, and it's great to see a celebrity chef who has integrity. He doesn't make a mockery of our industry. Instead he promotes it -- not for his own self-gain, or ours, but because he understands how tremendously demanding our profession is.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Ninety percent of them, but especially Guy Fieri. I do like his show, though.
What's your favorite knife? My scimitar. It has multiple purposes, and people are always intrigued by it.
What's one thing about you or your restaurant that people would be surprised to know? My mother knows everything (seriously), and I secretly don't like butter.
Hardest lesson you've learned: To be better than my teachers and to give back to my own cooks -- to pass along the same knowledge that my mentors passed on to me -- and then some. And I've learned to stop focusing so much on myself and instead point my energies toward raising the standards in the industry.
Last meal before you die: A handmade Italian sausage sandwich with broccoli rabe and fresh mozzarella from somewhere in Brooklyn, Ipswich clam bellies, or raw British Columbia prawns. It all depends on where I am when I finally go.
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