This is part two of my interview with Nate Bychinski, exec chef of Mateo; part one of my interview with Bychinski ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal you've ever had in Denver: Although it wasn't a traditional meal, last year's Denver Burger Battle at Sports Authority Field was a really memorable time for me and our staff. It was a very unique experience that we were thankful to be involved in, plus it was all for a great cause.
Five favorite Denver/Boulder restaurants: The Kitchen, Oak at Fourteenth, Colt & Gray, Masterpiece Delicatessen and Sugarbeet. These restaurants all offer inspiring dishes in a great atmosphere with excellent service.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I don't think I would change much. I think the city is headed in the right direction, and I wish I could dine there more often.
Which chef has most inspired you? Thomas Keller. He's highlighted the farm-to-table movement as a staple in his restaurants, and his food is always inspirational, plus his standards are high and he continues to raise the bar when it comes to creativity. He's definitely someone to look up to in this industry; he set the standard.
You're stranded on a desert island. Which chefs would you want to have with you? Eric Ripert, Masaharu Morimoto and Rick Bayless would be a group that would never run out of good conversation or excellent food, plus I could learn so much from each one of them.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Thomas Keller's at the French Laundry. Cleanliness and organization are things that I'm very serious about, and Thomas Keller's kitchen is the best in the business. He also grows much of their produce in his own restaurant garden, which is something I aspire to doing someday.
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: The work ethic -- or lack of it -- among many of today's culinary graduates. It's rare to find applicants with a good, solid work ethic who are willing to put in the time to learn their craft. There are definitely great cooks and chefs out there, but I do think that many graduates of culinary programs are unprepared for the hard work and long hours that come with being in the restaurant industry.
What piece of advice would you give to a young chef? Work hard, listen to your mentors, never give up, and never stop trying to evolve as a chef.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: The biggest mistake a chef can make is not communicating. Things can go south very quickly when the line isn't communicating.
Craziest night in the kitchen: My craziest night was as a young chef working the entree station for the first time at Solera, a restaurant in Minneapolis. It was a great kitchen that was always rocking and putting out phenomenal dishes, and I learned a lot there. But, yeah, it was crazy.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Sticking with my craft, getting the head-chef job at Mateo, and all of the nonprofit events I've done outside the restaurant, which allows me to work with other chefs. That always makes me feel really good. An accomplishment that I aspire to someday is the James Beard Award.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? A willingness and desire to learn, the ability to take direction, a positive attitude, and, most of all, a passion for cooking.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? Comfort food done with a refined approach. I'd love to have a place in the country with an on-site farm.
What's your idea of a great dining experience? I'm into all the little details, so making sure that all the small things are on point is very important to me when I'm dining out. Inspiring food and attentive service are also key.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: Every time the kitchen finishes a perfect service, the feeling is phenomenal. Cooking at the farm is also a great feeling for me, as is creating a new dish for the menu that really shines.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? I just received an immersion circulator as a very generous donation from Polyscience. What an awesome contribution from a great company. I'll be using it all summer at off-site events to test the limits of what these machines can do.
Weirdest customer request: A well-done sous-vide saddle of venison. I shed a tear.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: Last Thanksgiving, I was making whipped cream for the pumpkin pie in my siphon, and I accidentally used a CO2 charger instead of nitrogen. The mouthfeel of the whipped cream was similar to that of Pop Rocks. It made for some interesting dessert conversation.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator? I definitely have a sweet tooth, and Glacier ice cream seems to always find its way into our freezer. My favorite is pralines and cream.
Last meal before you die: A tomahawk chop steak, chanterelle mushrooms, Alba white truffles and my white-cheddar macaroni and cheese.
What is one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? Even though at times I can come across as harsh in the kitchen and on the line, I'm actually a very kind, compassionate and caring person. I have a big heart, but sometimes it's hard to see. I'm also a huge Green Bay Packers fan, although the Broncos are my second-favorite team.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I love animals, so I'd probably be working at an animal shelter or animal hospital. Either that, or I'd be a wizard.
What's in the pipeline? We just began serving a phenomenal brunch at Mateo, so I'm really focused on that, and I'm also looking forward to adding some great seasonal dishes to the summer menu.