This is part two of my interview with Eric Chiappetta, executive chef of Pizza Republica. In part one of this interview, Chiappetta weighs in on why he believes the cook at Griff's Hamburgers is a culinary god, and that whole molecular yada, yada, yada thing.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Having Bill St. John, the then-restaurant critic at the Denver Post, tell me that I was way ahead of my time. He stopped in at my first restaurant -- 3rd Avenue Eclectic Burgers & Cuisine -- in 2000 and was blown away. At that time, it was the highlight of my career. We really thought we were pushing the envelope back then, and for such a well-respected guy to compliment us like that was huge.
Favorite restaurant in America: Justine's Brasserie in Austin, Texas. It's a little restaurant they built in an old Victorian house in the bad part of Austin. It's as traditional a brasserie as I've ever encountered -- and it reminds me a little bit of Z Cuisine. It's got a very cool bar, amazing service, the best burger I've ever had, and just the best vibe I've ever felt in a space. It's just cool.
Best food city in America: Austin, Texas. The chefs and restaurateurs don't compete; they create, and there's a real sense of community there. They totally built the city around the "Keep Austin Weird" concept. Austin has a great lesson to teach the rest of us: Don't take your shit too seriously. The best part is the dining public -- they really get it.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Griff's Hamburgers. We have a lot of history, Griff's and I. My buddies and I used to go to a club downtown that's no longer there, and we'd just get wrecked, and then we'd go through the Griff's drive-thru and get chocolate shakes and double cheeseburgers with the jalapeño spread. Now I limit myself to one a month -- but I'll go on the first day of the month and the last day of the month.
Favorite dish to cook at home: Mexican -- tacos, mostly. I'll make guacamole, salsas, homemade tortillas, and an avocado-crème-fraîche-and-tomato dippy thing, drink a ton of Mexican beers and have friends over. There's a real marked difference between how I cook professionally and how I cook at home. I'm a lot looser at home, and while I still make everything from scratch, I'm not as concerned about how it's going to translate. Everyone just gets together and we have fun.
Favorite dish on your menu: The new duck confit, prosciutto, fig and arugula pizza we're putting on the spring/summer menu. It's money.
If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? Rice Krispies treats. We had them at the Larimer Hot House, my restaurant downtown, and my partner used to make a new style every day -- cinnamon toast crunch and crazy stuff like that. It was a lot of fun to see what she came up with every day. Here, we'd have to dip them in Nutella.
One book that every chef should read: Becoming a Chef, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. Sean Kelly gave me a copy for Christmas when I worked at Aubergine Cafe, and it's been my go-to book for almost everything ever since -- that, and the Food Lover's Companion.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? Me visiting wineries around the world and cooking local cuisine with the winemakers -- eating family-style with the cheese guy, the wine guy, the produce guy and everyone else we come in contact with. It would almost be like what Anthony Bourdain does on No Reservations, but what I want to do is purely wine-driven. I feel like it's the most under-represented topic on the Food Network. I'd love to be the guy who was known for marrying the food and wine world as one entity rather than two.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? I get one of those giant tins with all the flavored popcorns in it from Santa every year. Christ, I love those.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Pepperoni, mushrooms and a ton of red-chile flakes.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Whole Food's pink grapefruit Italian sodas. We make a lot of Salty Dogs at my place.
Guiltiest food pleasure? Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch -- like the whole box.
Weirdest customer request: I've been asked to remove the cream from a soup that's, uh, cream-based. I don't know what to say to that.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: My buddy, Jarrett, at Jimmy and Drew's Deli, made me a beef tongue sandwich once without telling me what it was. When I found out, I said "Mmmm...it's the sandwich that tastes you back."
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Follow the recipe once -- and then experiment. And go with your gut, because it's almost never wrong.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Julia Child. Been there, done that, and it was easily the highlight of my career.
Favorite celebrity chef: Probably Tyler Florence, because I think we have very similar cooking styles. He has a good sense of cooking, and he seems very real and easygoing. He makes simple dishes that are technique-driven and well thought-out, and he pairs things well and understands ingredients. He doesn't pull the whole "I'm pushing boundaries" bullshit.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Unfortunately, I've got to say Guy Fieri. I appreciate what he stands for and what he promotes, but I think he patronizes the people he works with and clowns around to the point where he turns things into a circus. It seems obscene at times, and I feel like he doesn't take himself seriously, so why should I?
Are chefs artists, craftsman or both? I'm a craftsman -- I pride myself on just that. Technique is everything.
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What's your favorite knife: My boning knife. It's the first knife I ever had, and I can work wonders with that thing. It started out as a chef's knife, but I wore it down so much that now it's a boning knife.
Hardest lesson you've learned: Humility. I used to think that I was supposed to be the best chef in the world, but the more that I let go of that notion, the better my food got. I was unapproachable for a long time, mostly because that's how I thought I was supposed to be. Once I let go of that, everything changed.
Last meal before you die: My mom's lasagna. It's the one thing I can't replicate. I don't know what she does or how she does it, but it's magic. I always ask for a pan of it on my birthday.