Part two: Chef and Tell with Lance Barto of Strings
This is part two of my interview with Lance Barto, exec chef of Strings. You can read part one of my interview with Barto here.
Best food city in America: Northern California. Right, I know that it's not a city, but the whole northern region of California seems to have such a connection with what's seasonal, organic and renewable. The restaurants there have a great mindset. I'd love to see Denver continue in that same direction.
Favorite New York restaurant: The last time I was in New York, I was far too young to understand the city's culinary importance. But I did enjoy the street food, especially the tacos and hot dogs.
Favorite music to cook by: Truth be told, we don't play music in the kitchen. But it's nice to gather ingredients out of the dry storage and hear the D Bar kitchen next door jamming out to some Led Zeppelin.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: We keep it pretty laid-back most of the time. The first rule is to always listen and watch intently when Noel tries to teach you something, because he's an invaluable resource when it comes to learning about food. Second, understand that we're here to make great food for our guests. And last, remember to have fun.
One food you detest: Shrimp cocktail. It's a combination of two things I loathe: American horseradish and shrimp. Let me explain: I actually enjoy the flavor of shrimp, but I can't get past the texture. It's always rubbery, and the larger the shrimp, the more rubbery the texture.
One food you can't live without: Eggs. Eating eggs and cooking with eggs is something that's always made me feel connected with cuisine. It's something innate, and it's hard to put into words, but bread, eggs and coffee always make me feel more connected to our past...maybe because we've been consuming them ritualistically for so long. Eggs are just so simple and so delicious.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I'm not easily embarrassed. It's not that I've never made a mistake, but when I do make a mistake, I learn from it and move on. I'm not embarrassed by it, but I've forgotten to order fish a few times.
What's never in your kitchen? Iodized salt. It's used in the front of the house at Strings, which makes me kind of angry -- but whatever. Iodized salt doesn't have a good flavor, the grains are too small, and there are just a lot of better salts out there.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Chefs showing restraint in the number of ingredients on any given dish. I don't think that there should be more than three or four ingredients on the same plate.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Corporate chain restaurants. If I walk by another locally owned restaurant that's empty while there's a wait across the street at Applebee's, I just may flip my lid.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Up-and-coming burger scene. I love a really good burger. We have a fantastic burger here at Strings, but Park Burger, Smashburger, Larkburger, Five Guys and even Good Times all serve a really great hamburger.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Farmers' markets. I have heard news about some changes being made next year at the Cherry Creek Farmers' Market, which would be great. I'd love to see a farmers' market that's driven by produce instead of a place to meet your next date.
Favorite cookbook: The French Laundry Cookbook, by Thomas Keller. It was the book I discovered while cooking my way through industrial design school that motivated me to give up design and concentrate on food. Bouchon (also by Thomas Keller) and Gordon Ramsay's Three Star Chef are a few of the other cookbooks that really hit home with me.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I wouldn't. I have no motivation to be in the media spotlight. I feel particularly indifferent toward the Food Network. It's so easy to dislike it because of people like Sandra Lee and Guy Fieri. I'm in this business to cook and to serve great food to our guests, but I get the sense that a lot of people in my position don't share that same feeling.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: When I first tried offal, I thought it was weird, but now I'm all, bring it on.