After getting the boot from the Village Cork three weeks ago, chef Samir Mohammad is back in the kitchen -- a real kitchen with a hood! And a stove! And brick ovens! And, he says, a "supportive environment that encourages me to be active in the community," a point of contention at the Village Cork, whose owner, Lisa Lapp, claimed that Mohammad, who's a member of the Denver FIVE, was spending too much time away from the butane burners.
But Mohammad has moved on: He's now the executive chef of Lala's Wine Bar + Kitchen, and while he just took over the line yesterday, he's already in the groove. "It feels so good to be in a restaurant that's busy and full of excitement, and the kitchen just feels super-comfortable to me," says Mohammad, who went through a series of interviews, which included a tasting, to nail the job.
"Brian Culligan, the GM of Lala's, and I set up a meeting, and it was a great interview, and when I went back for a second one to meet with the partners, they gave me a mystery basket and told me I had an hour to cook, so I did four courses, and they all loved it," Mohammad says. "We all got along really, really well, but I think the food was the selling point for them," he adds.
And while Mohammad insists that the board at Lala's, which is steeped in Italian cuisine and pizzas, has its share of loyalists, he has every intention of stamping it with his own style. "There are some good dishes on the menu, but it's scattered and not as good as it could be -- and the owners agree with me -- so I'm going to make it more seasonal and local, simple and cuisine-focused," says Mohammad, adding that while he won't make instant sweeping changes, he'll "take it up a notch," starting with nightly specials. "I'll do a couple of fun specials to start with, and then we'll figure out what's selling and what's not and build the new menu around that," he notes.
And since Lala's flaunts an open kitchen, where Mohammad feels most at home, along with five stools that peek into the culinary theatrics, he'll use the voyeurism to his advantage. "We have a great chef's counter, and my goal is to do an exclusive counter-only tasting menu," he divulges. In other words, those five seats may become some of the most coveted at a Denver restaurant.
In addition, reveals Mohammad, there's talk of adding a space within Lala's to build an approved charcuterie program. "One of the reasons why I took this job is because of future opportunities, and the possibility of installing a space to do our own charcuterie is really exciting to me," he says. And since Lala's is part of Premier Ventures Inc., a local company that also includes Marlowe's, Paramount Cafe and Govnr's Park, there's the potential for Mohammad to be involved in those restaurants, too.
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"I'm incredibly excited to be here," says Mohammad. "It's a awesome kitchen, I'm working with a great crew of people, and they're really on board with my ideas. We're on the same wavelength, and I feel good about my future here."