Chef and Tell: Bob Blair of Fuel Cafe
There are some chefs who insist on being called, well, "Chef," and then there are other kitchen wizards, like Bob Blair, who roll their eyes, shake their heads and politely ask that you don't address them as "Chef" at all. "I'm a cook," argues Blair, whose real job is executive chef/owner of Fuel Cafe. "We throw the word 'chef' around in our kitchen only when we're using it as a back-handed compliment. We use it when one of us screws up. I'd prefer to take the ego out of cooking, and I've just never been comfortable with being called anything other than a cook, because that's what I do. I cook."
Lori Midson Bob Blair, executive chef and owner of Fuel Cafe
Blair was born in Japan and traipsed around this country following his father -- "I was an Army brat," he says -- until he ended up in Littleton in 1985. He bounced from job to job to job while he was young, always searching for the right niche but never finding it until his first kitchen gig at the Greenbriar Inn, just outside Boulder. "During that first week, I was buried by people ordering filets and swordfish and chateaubriand, but the light came on pretty quickly, and it didn't take long for me to figure out that I could get it done and do it well," he explains. Blair went on to take a chef's position at the original Parisi before giving that up to return to college to finish a degree in administrative recreation. "My parents passed away, and I needed to fulfill a promise to them to go back to school and finish my degree -- but even then, I know there was no way that I wasn't going to cook," admits Blair.
He explored catering for a few years "to figure out which direction I wanted to go with my career," he says, but eventually decided that "reheating foods" wasn't exactly his idea of cooking. So when Parisi relocated, he ditched catering and managed Parisi's market and deli before becoming a stay-at-home dad, alternating between diaper duty and putting together a restaurant plan -- a plan that come to fruition on December 31, 2007, when he opened Fuel.
"I know it's been two years since we've opened, but it seems like just two months," he says. "We didn't think we'd ever get any recognition as a destination spot in Denver, but I have a great supporting staff that I'm really indebted to, a staff that's really helped me get to where we are now. In my restaurant, the staff comes first. If I put them first, they watch my back and take care of the customers for me."
Customers that aren't always easy to please, says Blair, who in the following interview opens up about a woman and her fork, as well as his irritation over bread before dinner, culinary grads who that think they're entitled to jobs delivered on silver platters, and menu prologues.
Six words (or however many it takes) to describe your food: Sentimental, seasonal, classical and relative to the weather. Yes, we really do look at the weather forecast to plan our specials for the week.
Ten words to describe you: Loyal, generous to a fault, fatherly, passionate, humble, procrastinator and sarcastic.
Favorite ingredient: Really great extra-virgin olive oil. Spanish, Italian or Californian, it doesn't matter. I love finishing dishes with olive oils. It's a condiment, a spice and a flavoring agent.
Most overrated ingredient: Bread before a meal. Why does everyone need to fill themselves up with bread before the real food comes? And why does everyone have to sop up their sauce with bread instead of using a spoon and actually tasting it?
Most undervalued ingredient: Beautiful, natural eggs. They're my most vivid memory of the time I spent in Italy. Watching a simple golden egg yolk have the ability to make pasta look as though you've added saffron to the dough is indescribable. The beauty of it makes me speechless.
Favorite local ingredient: Infinite Monkey Theorem Wines from Ben Parsons. It's really exciting to see really good wines being made here in Denver. Novo coffee is great, too. In fact, it's totally spoiled me. It's the closest thing I can think of to drinking a great glass of wine for breakfast.
One food you detest: Cooked green peppers ruin dishes for me. Raw green peppers are fine, but cooked green peppers transform themselves into something almost incomparable to the original ingredient. They just taste like ass. Yuck. I also don't like sundried tomatoes. They're just too overpowering.