Chef and Tell part two: Bob Blair of Fuel Cafe

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Lori Midson
Bob Blair executive chef/owner of Fuel Cafe
This is part two of my interview with Bob Blair, executive chef/owner of Fuel Cafe. To read part one of this interview, click here.

Culinary inspirations: I was the second-oldest of eight kids, so we hardly ever got to go out to dinner. But when my mom was away, traveling, my dad would splurge on lobster or take us to the Unicorn, this high-end French-Vietnamese restaurant in Littleton that was really cool. He introduced me to all sorts of interesting foods and places to eat at a young age. My mom wasn't a fancy cook, but her day-to-day stuff was good, and she instilled a great work ethic in me. She was also the first person to convince me to go to cooking school, but at the time, I was too stubborn to listen. I ended up listening to her in the long run, but it was ten years later than I should have. My travels to Spain (I'm a tapas-hopper), Italy, California and New Orleans -- all places where I love to eat -- have inspired me, as have all the places that I dream of going to but haven't been to yet. And every cookbook I've ever read is inspiration. We have a stack of fifty cookbooks at the restaurant, and I usually buy four or five cookbooks each month. When my dad was alive, he'd buy me thirty, forty used cookbooks from some dusty-shelved bookstore for Christmas. I couldn't wait to devour them.

Proudest moment as a chef: When I was working as a catering chef, my boss sent to me to Umbria for a week-long cooking class that was taught by a 68-year-old woman we called Mama. Most of the class was full of home cooks, except for three of us -- me, Mama and this guy, Serge, who was a restaurateur in Quebec and Celine Dion's former private chef. I was just some little punk kid, but on the second-to-last day of the class, Mama couldn't cook -- she was sick -- so Serge and I cooked that night for everyone in the class and everyone staying at the B&B where the cooking classes were held. It was such a blast. Mama spoke Italian, Serge spoke French and I spoke English, so we couldn't understand each other's language, but we totally understood each other through cooking, through the sizzle. It was a real defining moment for me, and when I came back to America and realized that I'd held my own, it was the first time in my life that I'd ever felt worthy of calling myself a chef.

Best food city in America: Chicago has it all: high-end cuisine at Charlie Trotter's; open minds at Alinea; the best Mexican food at Frontera Grill; great food at Avec, Graham Elliot, Publican, Sepia, Hot Chocolate, Green Zebra, Moto...the list goes on and on. Did I mention that Chicago also has the best hot dogs anywhere?

Favorite New York restaurant: I wish I'd been to New York enough times to visit all the restaurants I hear and read about, but I never get to New York. It's always Chicago, San Francisco or New Orleans for me. But my wife just told me that she has a business trip to New York coming up next summer and I'm going with her, so I can't wait to answer this question later. I want to go to Babbo, Prune and, of course, Momofuku.

Favorite music to cook by: For day-to-day cooking, I like listening to Ryan Adams. When it's an hour before the doors open and we need something to drive the kitchen, we listen to Rush.

Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Small independent group of restaurant owners, chefs, bartenders and servers who strive to support the other independents. It makes me ecstatic when other chefs come to Fuel, and it makes me especially proud to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of them.

Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Ratio of steakhouse chains to independent restaurants. It makes me crazy that we have more than one steakhouse on a single block.

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