This is part two of my interview with George Eder, exec chef of Pizza Republica; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Frasca, Beatrice & Woodsley, Fruition and Ian Kleinman's pop-up doughnut shops. I love to go out to eat and learn something new -- and I love the adventure that these places create. And Ian's doughnuts are the bomb. I bought a bunch of them for my whole staff when he did the pop-up at Table 6, and everyone was blown away.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: The gyros from Pete's on Colfax. I don't know what it is exactly that makes them so good, but they're definitely the best. I grew up in Detroit and always went to Greektown, and Pete's is the closest I've found to that here in Denver.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I'd love to see a tighter-knit group of chefs focused on sharing and teaching. I love the conversations and ideas that come from collaborating with anyone who loves food and wine.
One food you detest: I can't stand the texture of lentils and split peas in a soup. Ever since I was a kid, these have been at the bottom of my food list. But other than that, I'll eat just eat just about anything -- brains, cheek, tongue, you name it. Just not lentils and split peas.
One food you can't live without: Noosa yogurt with blueberries. It's just delicious, and eating it has helped me avoid becoming 300 pounds.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: There have been many, but the most memorable was on New Year's Eve, when I was a kid and all of us guys cooked at my aunt and uncle's house. I was in the kitchen with my dad, uncle and all of his friends down in Fort Myers, and we caught Jacks and blue crab out back and cooked for three families. I remember it like it was yesterday...cooking and drinking wine with those guys was like a coming of age.
Favorite childhood food memory: My grandmother's apple pancakes. She apple-picked from the back yard, tossed them in an old blue cast-iron fry pan with lard and fried them perfectly so they looked like a funnel cake -- and then she sprinkled them with sugar. Oh, my God. Everyone in our family has tried to replicate them, without success.
Favorite junk food: Crunchy Cheetos...and I don't even smoke pot.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Keep it simple, and don't forget the salt and pepper.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A single-cup coffee press from my brother -- it's like a one-cup French press, and it makes great coffee. He and I are coffee geeks.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? My mom gave me the Silver Spoon cookbook, and there's a recipe for roasted game hen with red and white grapes basted with the juice that's just perfect. I love the simple classics.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? I love the adventure and discovery of creating a new dish. You paint this picture in your head, you have an idea of what it'll taste and smell like, now all you have to do is make it a reality. That's just awesome.
Best nugget of advice for a culinary-school graduate: Realize that while you may have learned a lot in culinary school, it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface in your pursuit of knowledge.
What's your biggest pet peeve? My biggest pet peeve is having things out of place. Seriously, I completely ADD-out on where they've been moved to. It drives me bonkers. I'm an organizational nut. Mise en place, people.
Craziest night in the kitchen: When the wine cookie went wrong -- way wrong. We were doing a wine dinner, and I found a recipe for a classic Italian clove-and-wine cookie. We were in a full sprint to finish the rest of the dinner, so I put one of my guys on it. The recipe was in Italian and the measurements were in grams, but fifty grams of ground clove is not the same as a fifty-gram bottle of ground clove -- that's the whole bottle. When these crazy cookies came out of the oven, they could have killed someone. They were hideous, like ground-up clove cigarettes and menthol. They promptly hit the trash and plan B started. We ended up making a quick panna cotta instead with fresh berries...and apologized for the clove cookies.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: A chef who loses his cool and starts yelling throws everyone off, especially in an open kitchen. There's no excuse for it. When something goes down, then it's time to step in and focus your crew, find out what the issue is and offer to help them out. Focused attention -- and fifteen minutes of teamwork -- is everything. Yelling just frazzles an already frazzled situation and takes all of the confidence away from your staff. A chef's job is to be the emotional rock. It's like being a general: If he loses his cool, the war is over.
Which chef has most inspired you? My mom; Jose Guerrero, who's the chef at Chloe in Denver; and Anthony Bourdain. My mom instilled the joy of cooking in me at a young age and always had a plated meal for me whether I was there for dinner or not; Jose is a great friend and colleague who has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about any cuisine; and Bourdain...well, that takes care of itself. All three realize that the joy of discovery is the best part of the journey, and I'm grateful for what they've helped me to discover in myself.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? José Andrés, at his home in Spain with his wife, would be like learning guitar from Carlos Santana on his front porch while drinking tequila.
Most humbling moment as a chef: Preparing an awesome feature for dinner service, painstakingly researching it, driving around town to get all the exotic ingredients, meticulously prepping each component, tasting the stuff and getting unanimous praise...and then selling a total number of zero. You have to cook what your guests will like.
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Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: That Aha! moment when you first taste a dish and realize that you nailed it -- the first time. These moments are rare and elusive.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Surviving the storm from when we first opened in 2009 to now, and getting ready to open our second location. I'm truly grateful for my family, my staff and all my friends and guests who made us successful. Last meal before you die: God willing, anything cooked by my mom.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I'd still be in the restaurant business, serving people in some manner or another. It's in my blood, and it's my life's work. I just feel better taking care of people.
What's in the pipeline? A huge second location, downtown at the Colorado Convention Center. Every time I'm down there to check out the construction progress, it takes my breath away. It's a little scary, I'm a little humbled, and I'm super-excited like a kid on Christmas to open my gift. It's a brand-new buildout in a great location, and it's going to have the most awesome patio in Denver, hands down. I'm super-excited.