This is part two of my interview with Jared Brant, executive chef of Satchel's on 6th. Part one of that interview ran in this space yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: That's a very hard question to answer. There are so many great restaurants out there that are doing very different food...but I guess I'd say Schwa in Chicago, because I had the best meal ever there. The only people who work there are the chef/owner and three other cooks; there is no front of the house at all. The chef greets the guests, pours wine, answers the phone and then cooks the food. It takes two months to get a reservation there, but it's worth it, because the food is just amazing. It's the complete opposite of a standard fine-dining restaurant with all the smoke and mirrors.
Best food city in America: The most interesting food city to me is Chicago. People there just seem to be very accepting of whatever a chef wants to bring to the table, I suppose because there are so many different cultures there. A tiny Korean restaurant is almost as inspirational as the finest-dining restaurant, even though one may cost you $15 and the other meal may cost $500.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Definitely Fruition. The entire experience, from the moment you walk through the door, is always amazing.
Current Denver culinary genius: Alex Seidel and his guys in the Fruition kitchen are putting out the best food in Denver.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd like to see more molecular gastronomy. It's not my cup of tea, but nonetheless, it really interests me, and I think it would be cool to see other chefs doing a bit more of it. Molecular gastronomy pushes the envelope, and I respect and appreciate that.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd like to see fewer chefs and cooks with egos. I feel like there are so many kids coming out of the culinary schools here and expecting to be paid $12 an hour because they think they work hard -- or maybe they're all just lazy stoners. But, seriously, the "Denver Five" name just bothers me. I can name five more, ten more, even 25 more chefs that represent Denver. What's up with just the "five," when there are so many more chefs who are doing such great things? I really like the chefs who have great restaurants and also eat at -- and support -- other Denver restaurants. Chefs like Jeff Osaka and Lon Symensma are always out trying other people's food and supporting new chefs in the city.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A Le Creuset French oven that my chef gave to me when I moved from Indianapolis back to Denver. I use it at least three times a day at the restaurant.
Favorite dish to cook at home: I love cooking huge steaks at home with my girlfriend, mostly because I could never afford them at restaurants.
Favorite dish on your menu: We also serve brunch at the restaurant on weekends, and I think my favorite dish is the fried chicken with a chive biscuit and beer-and-cheddar gravy. I'm always looking for restaurants with good biscuits and gravy, so I decided to do my own -- and I eat it every weekend.
If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? I really love uni, and I'd love to put a dish on the menu that features it. It has such a unique flavor, and it's so very decadent. That said, it has a very short shelf life and probably scares most people.
One book that every chef should read: I still think every chef should read Kitchen Confidential. It's hilarious and comes pretty close to the truth about how the food industry can be.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? Some of the Food Network shows are so bad these days. I don't think I'd have anything new to pitch to them that they haven't heard already. I recently heard that they're doing a show about the worst cooks in America. Why the hell would I want to watch that?
You're making a pizza. What's on it? I'm pretty boring when it comes to pizza. I don't care about really fancy toppings, so I almost always order thin crust with a ton of pepperoncini.
Guiltiest food pleasure? The New Yorker burger from Park Burger. It's a Reuben on a burger, and it's amazingly rich. I've had probably around fifty of them -- they're that good.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Watermelons. I can't wait for them to come into season every year, and I like pickling the rinds as well.
Weirdest customer request: When I was a sous chef at Oceanaire in Indianapolis, we had a very unique request: A businessman from Japan asked if we could present a two-pound lobster to him -- alive! -- on a plate. He wanted to kill it himself and then eat every bit of it raw.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I still think the weirdest thing I've ever eaten was miracle fruit. There was a restaurant in South Florida that had a tropical garden in the back that had one miracle fruit tree, and we would pick all the berries and stand around with tons of cut-up lemons and limes. When you eat the berry, and then eat the lemons, it makes them taste really sugary for about ten minutes; it was like the lemons were full of the best lemonade I've ever tasted.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Season everything you make from start to finish, and taste everything at least twice while you're cooking it.
Are chefs artists, craftsmen or both? To me, cooking is more of an art. I think art is ever-evolving -- and it's not set in stone. Everyone's food looks different and tastes different, depending on their own style.
What's your favorite knife? My Glestain slicing knife. It's a Japanese knife, and it's really delicate, but I use it for cutting almost everything at the restaurant. I've gotten a ton of use out of it over the past several years, and it's turned into the kitchen knife that all of us use.
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Greatest accomplishment as a chef: The opportunity to cook exactly what I want and like -- and to create every day. It's been an honor to have Andrew Casalini, the owner of Satchel's on 6th, tell me that he likes my style and the feel we've created at the restaurant -- now come up with a menu. He put his trust in me to represent his name through my food, and I think we have very similar goals for what we want to accomplish in our careers.
Hardest lesson you've learned: You have to surround yourself with great people, whether it's managers, servers or cooks. It can only benefit you and your whole restaurant if you have like minds working alongside you. Every chef needs a good team to bounce ideas off of and to keep challenging each other. Hiring warm bodies with no experience, just so you can pay them less, only catches up to you in the end.
Last meal before you die: I'd have my mom cook a feast with all the dishes I remember both of my grandmothers making while I was growing up; she'd have to split them down the middle of the table.