After a year and a half, though, he was done with what he calls "extreme fine dining." The challenge was amazing, but "I wanted to cook for people I like to hang out with, and I couldn't see myself hanging out at L20, so the time was right to leave," McCandless says. So he rejoined Sodikoff, who by then was at Gilt Bar, where McCandless was tapped as the executive chef.
During his time there, McCandless's then-girlfriend had a baby, and the two moved back to Boulder, where they had both family and friends. McCandless took a sous-chef gig at the Greenbriar Inn, a place he describes as "this crazy, old, mysterious building." And although he enjoyed his time there, "there was, you know, this restaurant called Frasca," he points out, so he returned to Frasca and became chef de cuisine.
"While I was there, the kitchen had incredible talent, including Alex Figura at Lower48, and it was fucking awesome," recalls McCandless. But the pressures of being a single dad got to him, and he departed Frasca to "decompress from the stress." Not long after, Theo Adley, exec chef of the Squeaky Bean, sent McCandless a text asking if he had any suggestions for a kitchen magician. "I knew Theo from when he was at the Pinyon in Boulder, and I knew I liked him," says McCandless, who started at the Bean last October. "It's a great team of cooks, and there's no tension, because none of us are amateurs. We're all skilled and on a level playing field, plus we make it fun and enjoy what we do," explains McCandless, who in the following interview recalls the time his hand blew up like a balloon, admits that he's obsessed with the basics, and asserts that your hand sink is your reflection.
Lori Midson: What's your first food memory? Samuel McCandless: I'm not sure which came first, but it was either eating abalone on Catalina Island with my grandparents Jim and Marge, or eating salami with them in San Francisco.
Ten words to describe you: That's way more words than I need. I'm stubborn, shy, compassionate, funny and loyal.
Five words to describe your food: My food varies, but I like to think of food by adapting it to the space where it's being created. Right now, because of the season, it's light, floral, direct, playful and locally sourced, at least as far as Colorado produce goes.
What are your ingredient obsessions? I'm very driven by high-quality ingredients, no matter what ingredient it is. My mantra is to start with the best and end with something even better. Filtered water is huge, but the best vinegar is amazing. Olive oil from Steve Lewis is unreal, but buying close to home is something that should be done as much as possible.
One ingredient you won't touch: I have a hard time touching commodity liver. Liver raised by truly passionate farmers, like Clint Buckner and his wife, MaryKay, who have a farm in Longmont, is an honor to handle. Otherwise, it reeks of feedlot to me.