This is part two of my interview with Scott Yosten, exec chef of Steakhouse 10. Part one of my interview with Yosten ran in this space yesterday.
Favorite food city: Chicago. The ethnic boroughs and neighborhoods turn out the best food you'll ever eat. Just like in New York, there's a gyros place on every corner, but in Chicago each place is different. This is a city that lives for its food, and you can tell that's true every time you put something in your mouth. Guiltiest food pleasure: Great vanilla-bean ice cream with fresh berries and heated Melba sauce.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Sushi Den. I'm a huge sushi fan, and every time I go here, the food and service are spot-on. Their ability to produce new menu items and daily specials will never let you down, and in our current economy, it's great to see that this place is always packed.
Favorite music to cook by: As a whole, we like the oldies, Kool 105, great jazz and, of course, classic rock and roll.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Work smart, work hard, work clean, respect the staff, and most important, respect the food. When shit happens, you have to adapt.
Biggest kitchen disaster: This leads me to one of the most tragic restaurant horror stories related to breakage. When you're training to become a chef and rising to an executive-chef level, you're exposed to some of the most incredible cooking and serving vessels known to man, and the vessels are the canvas with which you paint your plate and serve your beverage. When the chaparral in the Marriott was converted into a steakhouse with seating for 200 people, all of the china, glassware and flatware were imported. They started with 300 fourteen-inch round, ceramic entree plates that were hand-painted and imported from Spain. They were stocked on the line over the broiler and sauté station for easy access -- and to keep them warm for service. Apparently the guy who installed the shelving system for the plates missed the memo that made it clear to use bolts when you're securing shelves that need to support a substantial amount of weight. Rule number one in the restaurant industry? Food and glass don't mix. Sure enough, on a busy Friday night, we saw the bolts pulling out of the plate shelf from the wall over the sauté station. There were four of us on the line -- not enough -- so we immediately summoned help, and the first guy to show up was our exec chef, who was 130 pounds soaking wet. He grabbed the side of the sagging shelf and held it up long enough for us to remove 100 plates -- and then we all had to bail out because we saw what was coming. The other 200 plates came crashing down in dominoes fashion on the sauté station and the broiler, creating a thunder that could be heard on the twelfth floor. My culinary heart was in my hands for the next week. I wasn't just saddened by the loss of some of the most beautiful serving vessels I've ever seen, but the closure of the line for two days. I worked on and off the clock for those two days, living in the Marriott to get that line functional.
How do you handle customer complaints -- and what should customers do when they're unhappy? No gray area here -- only black and white. You have a customer that's either empathetic -- someone who understands that we're having an off night, or every so often we're going to miss a steak -- or you have a customer who's drunk and rude. Either way, it's not about how you cook the crow; it's about how you make it taste. We all have those great days, and you can be perfect for a long time, but in one night, it can go south real quick. The customer is paying hard-earned money to dine in your restaurant, so if you don't get right the first time, you do whatever it takes to get it right the second time.
What are your thoughts on social-review sites, like Yelp and Opentable and Urbanspoon? Everyone has their own opinion about restaurants and food, but the issue of credibility certainly comes into play. These sites are out there, make no mistake about it, and as chefs, we try to learn -- and make ourselves better -- from the information we read. But who's to say that the operators of these establishments don't have their friends and family posting glowing reviews of their restaurants on these sites, without ever even visiting them?
Favorite celebrity chef: Hands down, Wolfgang Puck. He just gets it. He was -- and still is -- a hands-on chef who knows the feeling of sweat running down his butt during a Saturday-night service. He knows what a good steam burn feels like; he knows how to pull the knife away from his finger before it becomes a cut -- now it's just a nick; he's pulled his sterling silverware out of a bus tub filled with Caeser dressing, red wine and half-eaten bread; he's rolled up his sleeves and helped the dishwasher bust out the pots and pans; and he's grown his restaurant and food empire because he's a mentor, a true teacher of the culinary world, and his love for it still shows today. Yes, he can be loud and sometimes has an ego, but he's earned that right through his hard work, employee retention, promotion throughout his organization, and surrounding himself with the proper people.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: When aspiring chefs and food-and-beverage managers go to the Art Institute of America, Cornell University, the Cordon Bleu or the University of Denver, their goal is to become a celebrity chef. Then again, perhaps not. Maybe they enter the business because of the feel, the smells, the tastes and textures, the procedures and, most of all, the heritage. Maybe Daddy wants his daughter to take over the restaurant or Mommy wants her son to take over the kitchen. I'd like to think that celebrity chefs share the same things that all chefs do: their love for food and spices, the preparation, the presentation and the smiles on the faces of their customers. But a lot of today's celebrity chefs are scripted, rehearsed, time-framed and in front of the camera with full-on makeup. Still, they didn't choose this life, and they still have a passion for food, and best of all, they're sharing it with us. The Food Network, Bravo and many of the local stations are providing us with the culinary insight into current and future trends of the foodservice industry. All that said, I'm fairly sure Rachael Ray was running a school cafeteria somewhere before she landed her gig with the Food Network. And I'm positive that Gordon Ramsay was a bitter, empowered corporate training chef somewhere, and that, as a child, he was beaten in the schoolyard every day.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? I'd love to cook with Elise Wiggins from Panzano. She has it all: zing, attitude, knowledge, personality and a great kitchen mentality. And, of course, who wouldn't want to cook with Julia Child? One of my mentors, Pierre Wolfe, had the pleasure of doing so. When I watched the film of them cooking together, there was such a great connection, and their ability to showcase their food to a worldwide audience was a pleasure to behold.
Which Denver chefs do you most respect? Denver and Boulder have an incredible number of talented chefs, and their ability to produce so many different world cuisines, run their kitchens like machines and bring the farm to the table has put Denver on the culinary map. It's pretty clear that people all over the country now know that Denver isn't steak and potatoes anymore. Still, the chefs whom I respect the most are the ones who can keep their doors open -- and Frank Bonanno is the first chef who comes to mind. He's a chef who can crunch the numbers and run profit to the bottom line.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Quite simply, my longevity. I started my culinary career at a very young age and have continued to evolve ever since. The fact that I've worked at some of the finest houses in Denver is something I'll always be proud of, and the ability to grow with the food trends in Denver -- past and current -- is something that I've really enjoyed. And working at Steakhouse 10 every day with the entire crew and ownership puts a smile on my face. And that's a great thing.
What's your favorite knife? I have a ten-inch Henckel carbon hollow-point knife that I use for all my prep and grunt work. It holds an edge for a long period of time and has the weight and balance that's perfect for my hand. I also have a six-inch Forschner boning knife that I use every day for breaking down meat. It's never been on a sharpening stone.
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SHOW ME HOW
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Roma tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, sauteed portobello mushrooms and extra-virgin olive oil.
Hardest lesson you've learned: The restaurant business is all about people and food. I learned years ago not to take things too personally, especially the things that are out of your control. In this business, mistakes happen all of the time, and you learn from them, brush yourself off and move forward.
What's next for you? To finish this cookbook I'm writing. The unique thing about it is that each recipe has an entire nutritional analysis for that specific dish. My main goal is to get Steve Hess, the trainer for the Denver Nuggets, to sit down with me and be part of this. At one time, I had a cafe inside the Greenwood Athletic Club, which is where I met Steve, and when he took over the trainer position for the Nuggets, the dietary intake of the players wasn't up to his nutritional expectations, so he approached me to implement healthy food and recipes for the players -- and as a result, we started to make meals that the players could take home and pop into the oven. The cookbook is a compilation of the cafe recipes and brand-new ones.