This is part two of my interview with Luke Mewbourn, executive chef of Table Mountain Inn Grill & Cantina. In part one of that interview, Mewbourn harps on foie gras and Lady Gaga and hails the righteousness of Jim's Burger Haven.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: I don't really know if I've had my greatest accomplishment yet, but if I had to choose one, it's the opportunity to be the chef of the great kitchen where I am. Accomplishments, in my opinion, are something that I can't measure yet. I have a lot of cooking left in me, and when I have my greatest accomplishment, then I can start all over again. I haven't hit my limit yet, but when I do, I'll try to find another one to shoot for.
Favorite restaurant in America: I haven't been to my favorite restaurant yet. All the ones I go to are for different reasons, and I'd rather go to a new restaurant than an old one. I don't like to go back to the same restaurant, because I might be missing out on something else. Ultimately, though, my favorite place to eat is at my house, with my family.
Best food city in America: Las Vegas. There are so many choices...and so little time to hit up all the places I want to eat, both on and off the strip. I love that you can eat at anytime of the day or night and still have really good food -- even the hotel buffets.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: More food-savvy, knowledgeable guests who actually understand what they're eating -- rather than eating what's on their plate just for the sake of it. We're more than a meat-and-potato state, which some people still don't seem to get, but the fact of the matter is that we have good products of all kinds, and we know how to use them.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Fewer flashy places. Places should care more about the guests and less about status.
Current Denver culinary genius: I think we all are, in our own way. We all have to love what we do; we all strive to be better than everyone else; and we have to be a little different to work in this industry. I will say that I really respect how Frank Bonanno has spots here, there and everywhere and how he's managed to make them all a go. He also makes a great lobster macaroni and cheese.
What's the best food or kitchen-related gift you've been given? My pots and pans at home. I have no idea what kind they are, but my brother brought them to me in a knapsack. Hell, for all I know, he may have found them at a yard sale, but I love them and they've stood the test of time -- eleven years and counting.
One book that every chef should read: Whatever their favorite cookbook is. You can learn a lot from recipes that have stood the test of time, as well as new ideas to help get the brain flowing. The Joy of Cooking is my favorite cookbook; it's full of simple recipes that everyone can do, and it includes a lot of history about why things are the way they are.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I don't want to be on the Food Network. If I am on TV, then how can I continue to cook? I'm a chef, not a TV star. But if I had to pick something, it would be "Phat" Food From the Skinny Chef -- the skinny chef being all of my 140 pounds. It would be comfort food that everyone can cook.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Cheese -- so much cheese that it stops your heart. And then, halfway through the cooking process, I add more cheese. It has to have a thin crust so you fold the slice in half and stuff it into your mouth.
Guiltiest food pleasure? A Snickers Bar or gummy bears. I like sugar on occasion, and I can eat a lot of these things.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Milk. I love to drink it by the gallon, and I have two little girls, so we can sit and drink chocolate or strawberry milk all day long.
Favorite music to cook by: Anything that's on my iPod that day -- Dropkick Murphys, Chemical Brothers and Flogging Molly, just to name a few.
Weirdest customer request: A customer came in with a broken jaw and wanted his meal -- vegetable soup -- tossed in a blender, because he loved the food so much. Still, it's a crazy request.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Kangaroo meat. I once worked with a guy from the land down under who cooked us kangaroo burgers. They were great, and we had a kangaroo barbecue with lots of people, which made it even better.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Have fun, and don't be scared to try something new. Home cooking can be the most relaxing thing that you can do, as long as you don't try to do too much too fast.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Paula Deen. Everything she makes looks like the stuff I grew up on. She reminds me of my grandma: sweet, Southern, and a woman who just enjoyed cooking for her family.
Favorite celebrity chef: Robert Irvine, the English Food Network chef who does Dinner: Impossible, Worst Cooks in America and Restaurant: Impossible. He's a no-nonsense chef -- kinda like me -- who doesn't come up with excuses. He's all about results, and it's all about business with him -- just like me.
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Celebrity chef who should shut up: Bobby Flay. Although he can produce good food, I've never liked his attitude. Some people should be seen and not heard.
Are chefs artists, craftsmen or both? A little bit of both. If you know what foods you like and how to put ingredients together -- and you know it's going to make you happy and give you a sense of pride -- then it's your masterpiece. But before you can make a masterpiece, you have to have pride, and if you're going to call yourself an artist, you have to be able to take criticism, because not everyone is going to like your dish.
Last meal before you die: Grandma's butterball soup and fried chicken, my other grandma's banana wafer pudding and a cold Guinness.