This is part two of my interview with Garren Teich, exec chef of 1515 Restaurant; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal you've had: In Pines Point, Maine, there's a little lobster shack where you can buy a lobster roll for eight bucks and a crab roll for seven, and then walk out to the jetty where there's a bench that looks over the ocean. It's a great experience.
See also: - Garren Teich, exec chef of 1515 Restaurant, on molecular gastronomy, line checks and rooftop gardens - Round two with TAG Burger Bar chef Drew Archer: "If salt is flavor, then acid is life" - Drew Archer, chef of TAG Burger Bar, on pointing fingers, Ruffles and bacon
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: Biker Jim's food cart on the 16th Street Mall. It's close to our restaurant, and the dogs are so good. The reindeer dog, with cream cheese and Coca-Cola onions, is by far the best. I like that his restaurant has even more options than the cart, and I'm working through trying them all. It's definitely unique fare, and somewhere I take all my out-of-town guests when they visit. I know there's something there for everyone and no one will be disappointed.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I really like the style of food at the Squeaky Bean. They pair very unique ingredients and make them work well together. The presentations are beautiful, too.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I'd like to see diners be more adventurous and open-minded about what they eat. We have some traditional menu items at 1515 that are prepared and presented in a more modern way. It isn't always what the customer expects, but that's the way we do it. We had a poached-pear dessert with frozen pine foam on hazelnut powder and blueberry-and-honey goat-cheese ice cream that was really good, and those who got it enjoyed it, but in the end, not enough people ordered it to warrant keeping it on the menu. I think people aren't always daring enough to try the unfamiliar.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? The fast-paced, ever-changing environment. No day is the same. I get to be creative and experiment with different ingredients and cooking techniques, and Gene Tang, the owner of 1515, supplies me with all these great tools that push me to be innovative.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way? There have been so many innovations in recent years that have changed how we prepare and cook food and that are allowing chefs to be more creative with their menus -- things like the anti-griddle and thermocirculators, and ingredients like maltodextrin and agar, for example. I know that some chefs are very old-school and against having all these modern tools and ingredients in their kitchen, but some of the top restaurants in the world are progressive-cuisine restaurants.
Best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given: My Shun chef's knife from my parents. I use it every day, and it still cuts through just about everything. A good chef knife is essential to have; it can make quick work of prep, while not having a good one can really slow you down.
Fantasy splurge: A centrifuge, which can be used to make things like cold-pressed avocado oil and uncooked sweet-pea consommé. It can clarify and separate just about anything.
Favorite cooking show: Good Eats. Alton Brown is my hero. Each show is an education about a certain food or technique, and I actually learned a lot about the science of cooking from watching it. It's a great show for everyone, no matter their cooking level.
Last cookbook you bought and the recipes you're cooking from it: Modernist Cuisine at Home. We use a lot of their techniques and ratios for the various "molecular" elements we have at 1515.
What piece of advice would you give to a young chef? Be careful about how much money you spend on your education. Gaining actual experience in a restaurant can be more beneficial in the end. It doesn't matter where you went to school if you don't have the skills necessary to survive in the kitchen.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Use fresh herbs whenever possible; they make a huge difference in the flavor. Just be sure to add them after the food is cooked, and don't be afraid to experiment with them, either, even if a recipe doesn't call for it. If you like a certain herb, go ahead and toss it in.
Weirdest customer request: We had a diner order the tasting menu, and one of the courses was foie gras, which I know isn't for everyone, so I wasn't completely surprised when it was returned to the kitchen. The weird thing was that instead of foie, the guest requested that I do something with shrimp and french fries...except I don't typically serve french fries on the tasting menu.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: Alligator. We ordered it at a restaurant I worked at when I was just getting started. I don't think it ever made it on the menu, but we experimented with it in the kitchen. I hate to say it tastes like chicken, but it kind of does. It definitely has more of a steak texture, though.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator? I have a never-ending supply of homemade maple syrup in my fridge, thanks to my parents, who tap their sugar-maple trees every year. They reduce the sap and get six to ten gallons, a portion of which gets sent to me. It's the best maple syrup I've ever tasted.
Chef who has most inspired you: Thomas Keller. The French Laundry showed chefs who were just starting out, like myself, what cooking at a high level was all about. It was cuisine that you wanted to imitate and make your own.
If you could have dinner with three chefs, dead or alive, whom would you choose? Ferran Adrià and Grant Achatz, because these are the chefs that really brought progressive cuisine to the mainstream and have revolutionized how people experience food. I would also include Jiro Ono, who has such an amazing passion for what he does, even at the age of 85.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Eleven Madison Park [in New York]. They have a state-of-the-art kitchen that I would love to just experiment in, using all of those amazing food-preparation tools and gadgets.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? A progressive/modernist-cuisine, small-plate, prix fixe-course restaurant.
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: I think you have to be careful not to burn yourself out. Cooking is a tough and demanding schedule...evenings, weekends and holidays. You never know what to expect from one night to the next, and it can be stressful at times. You have to find a balance with life outside of work and make time for the other things you enjoy. I'm fortunate in that Gene gives me a flexible schedule so I can spend time with my wife and son. Without that, it would be tough to manage it all.
Craziest night in the kitchen: Our ticket machine, which I'm pretty sure is older than I am, decided to call it quits on a Thursday night during Denver Restaurant Week. We had handwritten tickets, which lacked consistency, were hard to read and coming in at an inconsistent rate. During Restaurant Week, especially, it's important to get in a flow with the timing of tickets, but this really threw a wrench in the gears, and it definitely slowed down the kitchen a bit.
Most humbling moment as a chef: I'll always listen to the opinions and suggestions of others. It's humbling when you realize that you always have something to learn and that anyone is capable of teaching you.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: It's nice when a table wants to thank you personally for their dining experience. My sous chef, Jonas, along with the rest of the crew, all work very hard, and it's rewarding to see that people are enjoying what you and your crew are doing.
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Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Most times in this business, the goal is to become the chef. Along the way, you think about how well you would do if it were to ever happen, and I'm proud to say that I'm running the kitchen just as I thought I would. You pick up things as you work up the ranks -- what works and what doesn't -- and it feels good to put what I've learned into practice and see it all come together.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I was a recreational skydiver for four years.
Last meal before you die: A Maine lobster roll.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I think I'd be a farmer. If I couldn't cook it, then I suppose I would grow it. I grew up on a farm, milking goats and feeding chickens, and my dad is a horticulturist, so I've learned a lot from him about cultivating plants and growing gardens.