Cafe Society

Samuel McCandless, chef de cuisine at the Squeaky Bean, on the hand sink and your reflection

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What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? The guys at Frasca got me a recipe book with nice notes in it. I cherish it.

Favorite culinary-related item to give as a gift: A dough card, peeler or an older knife that no longer suits me but could be potentially good for a newbie. Dough cards are the best; everyone should have one. An offset spatula, too.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring chef? Be clean and attentive, because if you are neither, you aren't worth shit. If you just aspire to be clean and attentive, at best you'll be okay. From a true aesthetic point of view, many dirty cooks -- and there are a lot of them -- get away with not being clean, and it's not admirable. Be clean from the start and you'll have a pure cooking heart. Look at your hand sink. That is your reflection. Your station? Again, your reflection.

If you could train under any chef in the world, who would it be? Peter Goossens of Hof Van Cleve, a restaurant in Belgium. His food is so playful, refined and classic; there's no modern BS. And if there is anything modern about it, it's that it's so classic, it's ahead of anything coming up the pipeline. It's real old-school fine dining. He's definitely an idol of mine.

What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? I look for cleanliness and attention to detail. If a cook has no experience and knows how to stay clean -- medicinally clean -- I'll take him over a cook with lots of experience and semi-decent hygiene any day. If I see roots in cleanliness, I see a good, honest future. A cook who has cleanliness in his roots has the ability to be trained properly. One who doesn't is usually a loose cannon.

If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? A temple to Colorado cuisine that would be a facility where we'd have to meet specs on all pickling, preserving, brewing, curing and packaging of things we sell. Everything would have to be Colorado-proud, including the materials for the building. No GMOs allowed. No garbage in. No garbage out. All quality ingredients from start to finish. Think Colorado wood on the grill and Colorado meat on said grill.

Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Not knowing how to expo. It's so common, and such a huge role that's often overlooked.

What's been your worst disaster in the kitchen? Setting the Ansul [fire extinguisher] off in Montana as a young boy. In a nutshell, too much lighter fluid on a mesquite grill. It was a bad day that still haunts me.

Craziest night in the kitchen: When I was cooking in Arizona during a friends-and-family night before we opened Olive and Ivy, I was working the meat station, and everyone ordered meat, because all the food was on the house that night, and it was very busy. I was changing out a pan over the flat-top and moving very fast, and some of the fat splashed out of the pan, and my hand was under it. There were flames everywhere. I didn't drop the pan, and I didn't stop cooking, but I knew it was bad. When I finished service and called the chef over to look at my hand, it got cold, and in a span of twenty seconds, it puffed up like a balloon while we were looking at it. That sucked.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson