Part one of my interview with Ignacio Leon, exec chef of Paxia and Los Carboncitos, ran yesterday; this is part two of our conversation.
Favorite food city in America: The nation's best chefs are in New York and Miami. Because both cities are such large population centers and tourist destinations, they tend to attract really great, creative talent.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Sushi Den. There's a reason why it always lands on those best-restaurants-in-Denver lists. It's the best place in Denver for truly fresh, high-quality sushi.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: This may sound like cheating, but I'd have to say Los Carboncitos. It's cheap, but we strive to provide good quality. The kitchen is open so you can see how the cooks are handling your food, and it's open late, so it's a great alternative to other fast late-night options.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I would love to see the higher-quality restaurants stay open later. If you want to have a nice dinner after 11, the only alternatives tend to be diners, fast-food joints and bars. In Mexico City, if you go clubbing or to the bars, you can still get good-quality food at three or four in the morning.
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: Meeting the demand for organic food and gluten-free diets. Consumers are becoming more and more savvy about ingredients and wanting to know how -- and where -- their food is sourced. We once got a call from someone who wanted to know what the cows we served were fed. Luckily, we get our beef from a small, locally owned supplier who keeps us very well informed about the meat they provide. But that isn't always the case. The masa we get isn't made completely from corn, and it's sometimes hard to track down all the ingredients, but we know answering those questions is essential for gluten-free diners. I don't think this is a trend that is simply going to fade away.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Stupid people. I have no patience for people who don't think and need things explained over and over again. If you can't multi-task, I don't have much use for you.
What do you enjoy most about cooking? Meeting our guests and hearing their feedback about our food. I really try to listen to both the good and bad and take all of the comments to the kitchen so we can make the food better.
What's never in your kitchen? Lazy people. I just don't like people who aren't enthusiastic about being there in the kitchen. I have no tolerance for people who cook because it's nothing more than a job. If you're just punching a clock, then you don't belong in my restaurant.