Chef and Tell with Jeff Osaka from twelve
Most undervalued ingredient: Salt. It's the basis for most cooking -- even pastries. Too much or too little and it's worthless, but the right amount does wonders. I once met someone whose chef asked him, "How many grains of salt did you use?" Excessive? Compulsive? Maybe not.
Favorite local ingredient: Anything from Josh Halder at Verde Farms. Right now, I'm using micro-cilantro and micro-chervil -- both packed with flavor, but delicate enough to not overpower a dish.
Best recent food find: The best ramen in town is at Den Deli. They use braised pork belly, seaweed and bean sprouts. And there's just something about the broth...it's really tasty and spicy. That's most of the dish, right there. It's really, really, really good.
One food you detest: White pepper. I worked for a lot of chefs that insisted on using it, but no matter how you grind it, it still tastes like dirt.
One food you can't live without: Butter. People often ask me if I'd like some bread with that butter. When I was a kid, I made sure every square in my waffle was filled with butter. I don't do that today, but I still put my syrup on the side, because when I was little, there were no nooks and crannies to pour it in.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: More chefs working to build camaraderie. Sure, we want to be the best at what we do and outshine the next guy, but I always think it's easier to get to the top with help rather than trying to do it all on your own. Unfortunately, our work lives are so busy, and once we throw our personal lives into the mix, we're back to square one. I'm sort of an outsider. Chefs have big egos, but the passion needs to be shared. If we're all busy, then we're all making money. This is an open invitation for all chefs to give me a call -- 303-293-0287 -- and just say "hi."
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: I think I'm with everyone when I say chains. Give us independent guys a chance; we've got some pretty good food here.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Read the recipe all the way through. Many people, including myself, don't do that, and then we wonder why a dish never comes out the way it's supposed to. After you try a recipe once, go beyond it and add your own personal twists.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: I've only been in Denver sixteen months, so I haven't dined out often enough to have a favorite restaurant yet. But there are restaurants where I've had great food: Masterpiece Deli for the Reuben; Osteria Marco's burrata; Fruition, if you're a grazing vegetarian; Rioja's artichoke tortelloni; and Table 6 for anything that involves the pig.
What's your favorite knife? My chef's knife. I've had many over my career, from Global to WÜSTHOF, but for the last ten years, I've used a Masahiro chef's knife. It's not really about the brand, but about how you use the knife. Most people don't use the entire knife: I use it from tip to tang - and even the backside.
Hardest lesson you've learned: Choose your partners wisely. That's all I have to say about that.
What's next for you? I'm open to suggestions, but what I really want to do is Asian food in the same neighborhood that twelve is in. There's no good Asian around here. I want to do a real izakaya with Japanese tapas -- all small bites -- and beer and wine, with nothing over 15 bucks. My twist would be a more traditional, but approachable, menu. With that in mind, when I make my next move, I'm sure it'll be great. Stay tuned.
This is part one of Midson's interview with Jeff Osaka; for part two of the interview, click here.