Cafe Society

Shaun Motoda, chef of TAG|RAW BAR, on the perfect bite and his obsession with Taco Bell

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But a girlfriend living in Denver convinced him to bid farewell to that job and Hawaii, and head to the Mile High City, where he soon said "Aloha" to Troy Guard, executive chef-owner of TAG. Guard and Motoda instantly clicked; Guard had also worked for Yamaguchi. Motoda staged at TAG for a night, and Guard hired him as a line cook/sauté cook, a stint he held for a year until Guard opened TAG|RAW BAR, where Motoda is now the chef de cuisine, along with Sam Freund. "This is an awesome job," he says. "I love creating flavor profiles that make guests raise their eyebrows and question my motives, and then seeing their 'Oh, wow, this works!' reaction. I love turning people into believers." In the following interview, Motoda weighs in on what he eats at Taco Bell (a lot!), pleads for a less judgmental restaurant industry and explains why his tasting menu will blow you away.

How do you describe your food? It's bold, unique and defies the generally accepted rules of the kitchen.

Ten words to describe you: Shy, different, understanding, patient, calm, protective, crazy, unique, passionate and hungry.

What are your ingredient obsessions? Right now I'm obsessed with using soy; I grew up with it, and it adds so much depth of flavor. I'm also working with a lot of different chiles -- jalapeño, sambal and serranos. I like the heat they bring to a dish and how they can unfurl so many unexpected flavors. I also like playing around with acid in the form of citrus, vinegars -- especially rice wine -- and yuzu. I like how they enhance certain flavors, like bringing out the sweetness in something you wouldn't expect. If you squeeze a little lemon on uni, for example, it brings out an incredible sweetness. I love how something so simple can alter the profile of whatever ingredient you're working with.

What are your kitchen-gadget obsessions? I use a specific metal kitchen spoon for everything -- to flip things in a pan, taste, plate and sculpt. It's a little bigger than a regular tablespoon, and I've always got one on me.

Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: I love using the melons from the Western Slope in salads, compressing them for carpaccio and plating the ripe fruit with fish. I'm already thinking about the summer and creating a sushi roll that will have a melon component.

Food trend you'd like to see in 2013: I'd love to see a trend that's the anti-trend, by which I mean people just eating what they want and what they like -- not letting others dictate what to eat or how to eat, or what's "cool" to eat.

Food trend you'd like to see disappear in 2013: I get that certain people have serious dietary restrictions, but I'm not a big fan of everything going gluten-free. I know it seems like this is a trend that's here to stay, but so was the sugar-free trend, and the carb-free trend and the fat-free trend.... I'll be happy when gluten is back in style.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson