Part one of my chef interview with Josh Barhaug, who mans the line -- and pizza oven -- at Fired Up, ran yesterday; this is part two of our chat.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: People coming together, trying new things and putting Denver on the map as more of a foodie destination. We all need to work together to achieve this; we all need to be on common ground. Stop all the bullshitting, so food warriors like Anthony Bourdain don't think we're a joke when it comes to food. I mean, effin' Minneapolis beats us out as a better food destination. What more can I say? Love you, Minnesota. But -- really?
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I know a lot of people say steakhouses, but I'm a sucker for steakhouses. They remind me of my childhood, and who doesn't love an amazing steak? But to answer the question...the obvious vegetarian -- but just the bad ones should go.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: There are several, but the one that stands out the most is when my wife and I had a sixteen-course tasting menu at Joël Robuchon. Everything was just so beautiful and amazing. While you're eating, they push around the most amazing bread cart you've ever seen, which is awesome, but it doesn't help when you have the choice of bacon-infused bread along with so many other amazing choices -- plus a dozen more courses wonderfully awaiting your pleasure. By the time you've totally gorged and start patting yourself on the back because you're so proud of yourself for eating all sixteen courses, they come around with a dessert cart full of housemade truffles and candies and, really, just about everything else you can imagine. And for whatever crazy reason, you keep piling it in like you have a cow's stomach. I didn't know how to say "Please, stop" or "No more." Then again, I really didn't want to.
Favorite childhood food memory: When my whole family is around the dinner table. It hasn't happened in a while. That was great, though, and I was glad to have great experiences like that growing up -- the eating and drinking, and everybody getting along for the most part. I wasn't drinking besides a little bit of peppermint schnapps in my milk to put me to sleep. Different times.
Favorite dish on your menu: Our veal sweetbreads done Buffalo style over celery-root purée, and our Coloradan pizza topped with braised Colorado lamb shoulder, Haystack Mountain goat cheese and wood-fired roasted tomatoes finished with unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil.
Biggest menu bomb: It might be my Seoul pizza with kimchi and marinated short ribs. You either love it or hate it. I wouldn't say it bombed...but I would call it the bomb. Sorry, I had to say that.
Favorite junk food: Potato chips -- actually, make that any kind of chip. I don't discriminate, but my favorite is definitely kettle-cooked.
Weirdest customer experience: A guy came into a former restaurant where I was working and ordered a salad -- a salad that we were seasoning with red salt. It went out, and the guy took one look at it and started to yell that the kitchen had put glass all over his salad. I went out to his table and tried to convince him that it was red salt, but it didn't go so well. He kept telling me that he'd been a geologist for thirty years and he knew what glass looked like. No matter what I said or did, he was never going to be convinced that it wasn't glass.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: When I was in the Army, I ate dog in Korea, which should tell you that I'll eat just about anything. I have a dog, though, so no more of that.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? At Fired Up we have wines by the keg -- four red and four white -- as well as many different bottle selections, and I like them all. We also have ten rotating craft beer handles. Did I just self-promote again? Okay, I drink a lot of pinot noir, and I like lagers, and, yeah, I like my Coors Light, too -- that and PBR are my beers of choice.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Good chef friends, who are always there for me when I need them most. Darren Pusateri, who works at the Squeaky Bean, has been a friend of mine for a while, and it's great when you can count on friends like that when you're opening a restaurant. Thanks, Darren!
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Don't be afraid to try new things, and keep in mind that Grandma's way isn't always the best way. Buy a cookbook that you're really interested in, or study a chef whose cooking and cooking philosophies you really like, and work your way through their cookbook. I guarantee that you'll surprise yourself and learn new tricks along the way. That's free advice. Culinary school gave me the same advice for a cool forty grand.
One book that every chef should read: Any basic how-to-speak-Spanish book. Bet you thought I'd say The French Laundry Cookbook
What's your best piece of advice to culinary-school grads? Work as hard as you can for the best person you can.
What are your biggest pet peeves? Not working together to achieve a common goal.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: "Your hair looks good today." Oh...you mean food. "That's the best thing I have ever ate" is always music to my ears.
Culinary heroes: Local chefs and inspiring cooks. This business chews people up and spits them out. I admire anybody who doesn't give up.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Chef René Redzepi, who owns a restaurant in Copenhagen. What's impressive to me about him is that he's cooking some of the world's best food, and he's doing it without any of the fail-safes -- olive oil and tomatoes, for example. When he first started cooking, he said the book that helped him the most was actually a survival guide that taught him how to forage and survive off the land in the forest, and that's how he gathers a lot of his product today. And the fact that he cooks Scandinavian food? That's definitely a challenge in and of itself. I like people who can take what they have and make something special from it.
Favorite celebrity chef: Rick Bayless is pretty cool. He took authentic Mexican dishes and added twists to make them his own while still maintaining the integrity and authenticity of the dishes. I admire him for that. He spent a lot of time immersed in Mexican culture, and it's pleasantly surprising to me that he chose Mexico at the time rather than France, Italy or Spain, which is where everybody else was going for inspiration -- and are still going.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: I love Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives -- and admit it, you do, too. But sometimes the shit that comes out of Guy Fieri's mouth drives me crazy. That said, please come to my restaurant, Guy, so I can make lots of money.
Most humbling moment as a chef: Hell, I'm humbled every day. That's what's so great about this industry. There's always something new to learn or something to get better at. I try and grow every day, and I'm always amazed with what people are coming up with in their kitchens. Whether it's revisiting old classics and putting a spin on it or coming up with an amazing new technique, I love it all.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Opening Fired Up with my wife, Jessica.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I was in the United States military and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a chemical-weapons specialist. I wasn't a cook in the Army, but as soon as I got out, I knew that's where I wanted to end up.
What's your dream restaurant? One I don't have to worry about. Is that possible?
What do you have in the pipeline? I'm not quite sure, but you can expect to see more unique and creative pizzas and small plates. We just started brunch, and we're having some fun doing some cool pizzas like a biscuit-crust pizza topped with our housemade chorizo and gravy and two eggs on top. I hear it's good.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.