This is part two of my interview. Part one of my interview with Patrick Horvat ran in this space yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: Marotta's, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. It was where I got my start in the business, and it if weren't for the owners of that place, I probably wouldn't have made it in the business. They taught me a lot and gave me tough love when I needed it.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant: Il Posto. Owner and chef Andrea Frizzi and his staff do a great job. I worked there for about a year and a half and learned a lot about food and cooking, and every time I go back to hang out or eat, they always treat me like family -- and that means a lot. It's nice to go back to a former kitchen and still feel all the love, and those guys are just killing it when it comes to food.
Last restaurant you visited: Izakaya Den, with my wife, a few weeks ago. It was awesome. We'll go back, for sure.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Year-round multi-vendor markets. I grew up in Cleveland, where we have the West Side Market, a culinary mecca that's a hodgepodge of traditional old-world European delicacies ranging from sausages and homemade mustards to pastries and baked goods to seasonal veggies from local farmers. It's only open a few days a week, which adds to its appeal and makes it that much more special when you get to go. I think the farmers' markets here in Denver are awesome -- for the three or four months that we have them -- but something a little more permanent with a lot more vendors would be awesome. If you ever make it to Cleveland, I suggest you check out the West Side Market. It's amazing, and I miss it.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Crappy Mexican food joints. That response is common, I know, but I have to agree. Some of the Mexican places we have here are just awful. Endless chips and three different salsas doesn't mean your food is good, and it's frustrating because I've worked with Mexican guys who bring in food that their wives or girlfriends make, and it's unreal, so I know the culinary talent and traditions are out there -- but for some reason, that talent and those traditions don't seem to make it to the restaurants. Also: What's up with the $1.35/scoop Asian places? That irks me as well.
Which Denver/Boulder chef do you most respect? Any chef who can keep a restaurant going in this economy is pretty bad-ass, in my book. With all of the coupons and daily deals going on out there, it's surprising that we still have so many great chefs and restaurants, with more restaurants opening all the time.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Jorel Pierce and the boys at Euclid Hall. I've known Jorel for a while now -- we play a good amount of disc golf together -- and I really think the food they're doing is legit and honest. I dig the open kitchen and respect the amount of product those guys crank out every night, always under the watchful eye of the guests. There's no room for error when you're putting on a show like that, plus he's just a cool dude with a wealth of food knowledge -- and the food is stuff I like to eat. It'd be fun to rage it on the line there.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Running my own kitchen before the age of thirty. Not that age really means that much, but it was a personal goal of mine to either be doing my own thing or running my own kitchen by the time I reached thirty. I guess it's some weird kind of personal validation that I felt was necessary.
Favorite celebrity chef: Marco Pierre White -- a no-bullshit, straight-up, bad-ass chef. That guy made it happen at whatever cost, and he busted his ass to get there. I love watching his old TV shows on YouTube; there's so much finesse, and his food is just so clean and classically awesome.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Rachael Ray, for sure. She's annoying as hell, makes up stupid nicknames and abbreviations for food items, and she really just grinds my gears. Not to mention, I worked at a place where she was filming one of her $40/day TV show episodes, and she was totally rude to my boy Jeff, who made her meal and then explained it to her. Not cool, Rachael Ray, not cool. Have a little class.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: A customer who came to eat at Venue a second time because they liked it so much the first time around, or someone who tells us that our food reminds them of what their mom used to make. Those things always make me feel great.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? My first chef gave me a copy of Larousse Gastronomique. That book is a wealth of knowledge and has been invaluable to me.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? I usually only drink wine when I'm tasting it for a wine dinner, or when I'm camping and it comes from a bag. Those wine-in-a-box guys do a great job for backpacking trips, mainly because the boxes pack well and have minimal waste. There's no lugging out empty cans or bottles -- plus, when you finish it, you can blow up the box with air and use it for a pillow. Seriously. As for beer, I could drink Newcastle for the rest of my days and be happy. I also like a good IPA or amber ale. I love being in Denver, because there's a seemingly endless supply of quality beers to try, but, sadly, I don't think I'll ever get to them all.
Favorite music to cook by: It depends on the mood of the kitchen and the weather. On a sunny day, it's usually something happy, like Peter Tosh, King Tubby, Phish or Yonder Mountain. On gloomy days, maybe we'll put on some jazz, some classical and possibly some NPR. We've also been listening a lot to 1190 AM, and we're always up for a hefty dose of the Talking Heads.
What's your favorite knife: A Wüsthof eight-inch boning knife. It has the perfect amount of flex and holds an edge really well.
One book that every chef should read: The Flavor Bible. It's got everything you want to know about ingredients, and it's just such a valuable resource; the authors really did their homework. I like it even more because it doesn't give you straight recipes; instead, it gives you ideas and flavor pairings, which force you to do the work.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Pepperoni, capers and red onion.
Guiltiest food pleasure: Fried dill pickle spears. What can I say? I'm a pickle junkie, and when they're fried, they're awesome. We don't deep-fry anything at Venue, so I tend to crave fried food.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Start with the basics and go from there. I often talk to friends who tell me how intimidated they are by cooking, and it surprises me. I think if people just start out with a few basic recipes and build their repertoire from there, the possibilities are endless. You have to start somewhere, and the more you try, the better you'll get. The time management, speed and technique all come with practice and repetition.
Are you affected by reviews at all? What's your opinion on food writers and social review sites like Yelp, Opentable, Urbanspoon? Of course, we're all affected by reviews. Let's be honest: When people are looking for a place to eat, they usually look at the menus, and if they like what they see, then they read the reviews -- that's just how it goes. But it's important to take all those reviews with a grain of salt; sometimes people just have an ax to grind -- and they will. Sometimes you do shit the bed; nobody's perfect. But what gets me is when disgruntled diners leave without saying anything to anybody at the restaurant about whatever problems they had. We're here to serve you, so don't be afraid to say that the dish was too salty; let us fix whatever's wrong. All in all, I don't think review sites are bad -- they serve their purpose -- but you have to keep in mind that everyone's palate is different. We strive to do our best every day, but we need to know when we missed the mark.
If you weren't a chef, what would you be? I'd hope that I'd have enough time to hone my disc-golf skills and make the PDGA tour; that would be pretty sick. Otherwise, I'd be a gardener/farmer or a NOLS guide. I really love being outside.
What's one thing about you or your restaurant that people would be surprised to know? We make all of this wonderful food happen with only a six-burner range, one oven and a flat-top. At Venue there is no deep fryer, no grill, no walk-in cooler, no salamander, no immersion circulator and no induction burner -- just six people who really love to cook.
Hardest lesson you've learned, and how you've changed because of it: Life isn't fair, and it's not easy. Unfortunately, people will screw you over to get what they want, and the knowledge of that has forced me to be more honest and hardworking. I'm careful, too, not to take the good people and things in my life for granted. I always work to try to make myself a better person.
What's next for you? Ski season. It was a hot summer. I'm totally ready to shred.