- Words by Katie Lew
What is your background in the food business and how did you get started?
Well, I grew up cooking and I kind of cooked my way through college. I grew up summers on a beach and I like surfing. Since restaurant work is usually a night-time job, I was able to surf during the day and cook or wait tables at night. And when I was in college I needed money so I would cook in the summers and on my breaks and when I graduated from college I couldn’t really find a job in my field. I was a finance and accounting major at DU and I couldn’t find a job so it just made sense that I got a job cooking and I never looked back.
What brought to Colorado originally and why did you decide to put down roots here?
I went to college at the University of Denver and I just loved it. I loved the city, the weather, the climate is great, and I was a big skier in college.
Do you feel like the culture of Colorado has influenced your cooking?
Honestly, no. I’m more inspired by what I love, or the places I’ve travelled. I just cook from what I’m feeling. I mean, yes, I love our Colorado produce and Colorado lamb, but that’s really just because of where we are, it doesn’t dictate who I am as a chef.
Can you tell me a little about your newest restaurant, Salt & Grinder?
The restaurant was kind of by happenstance. I was looking for a place to do my cured meats, my salumi program in, and the space happens to be 2 blocks from my house and my wife said, “We can’t have an empty store front in our own neighborhood, we have to put something in there.” So, I thought let’s just do a deli, it makes perfect sense have cured meats and do sandwiches upstairs. I wanted to a very simple New York, New Jersey style deli. You know, no froofroo, it’s just all about the bread, a grinder roll that I helped develop with my baker, Grateful Bread. It’s a very specific type of roll to the tri-state area. And then do really quality meats, like Boar’s Head. Not doing anything too fancy, basically making good, honest sandwiches using great ingredients. Denver does not have a lot of great delis, it’s something I’ve always felt was lacking. There are a couple great deli’s, but not many places, other than a chain restaurant, to get a sandwich.
What do you look for when deciding on a location for a new restaurant?
It’s usually mostly economics. Whether the rent and the cost structure works for the concept that’s going in. Really, it’s mostly about what works financially.
Do you think one of your restuarants reflects your own personal cooking style the most?
It would be both Mizuna and Luca. That’s where I spend 90% of my time. I am actually the executive chef at Mizuna right now. I just went in and rewrote the whole menu and have been training the staff there.
What inspires you’re restaurant concepts?
A lot has to do with what I’m reading at the time, or where I’ve travelled recently. For example, the Mizuna menu change that I just did, I was in Paris and London for 3 weeks at Christmas and I was influenced a lot by what I ate and what I saw. Mizuna is French restaurant anyway and I’m classically French trained, even though I’m Italian, so that’s a huge influence.
What do you think is the most important tool for a home cook to have in their kitchen?
Hmm, I would say salt and pepper pinch pots, because most home cooks don’t season their food properly. Oh, and a good knife.