Cafe Society

Tommy Lee, exec chef of Uncle, on yakitori, Yelp and stinky tofu

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How do you describe your food? Simple and satisfying dishes based on traditional flavors and ideas with a twist.

Ten words to describe you: Detailed, pessimistic, quiet, calculating, even-keeled, inquisitive, loyal, and currently very tired.

What are your ingredient obsessions? I love garlic, acidity and spice, probably because I grew up Chinese. Every dish has garlic, my dad loves spicy foods, and many Cantonese dishes go well with a drizzle of Chinese red vinegar. Still, it's a flavor profile that lends itself to many cuisines, regardless of the ingredients.

What are your kitchen-gadget obsessions? I could spend all day at Williams-Sonoma playing with new toys, but my favorite tools are a Kunz spoon and a nice French steel pan. My other obsession is wok spoons, which are perfect for scooping, measuring and stirring. I'm still looking for the perfect wok spoon.

Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: I love Palisade peaches and Olathe corn. Luckily, they're readily available almost anywhere when they're in season.

One ingredient that you won't touch: Extra-firm tofu. It gives tofu a bad name, and it's probably why most people dislike tofu in the first place.

Food trend you'd like to see in 2013: I'd love to see a real yakitori restaurant in Denver. I've really gotten into ramen, and yakitori, with its wood-fired grills, goes with my idea of traditional Japanese food. Yakitori is the extension of ramen for me.

Food trend you'd like to see disappear in 2013: Yelp. For the most part, it's an uncontrolled platform for people who want to complain. If you have a complaint, tell the restaurant about it while you're there. That said, I think most people use Yelp for restaurant contact information rather than determining where to actually eat. When I go out to eat, I base my decisions on where my friends suggest I go or what I read on the food blogs that I respect.

One food you detest: I'm not the biggest fan of stinky tofu, which permeates the streets of many Chinese cities and smells like burning, rotting garbage. I can't imagine cooking with it or eating it. On the other hand, it's nostalgic. One whiff, and I know I'm back in Hong Kong.

One food you can't live without: Fried chicken -- and for the record, I'm not a fried-chicken snob, but it's the ultimate comfort food, and almost every cuisine has some version of it, which makes the flavors endless. Heck, it even tastes good cold. I'd crush a bucket of KFC Original by myself if no one was watching.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson

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