Part two: Chef and Tell with Jeff Osaka of twelve

Jeff Osaka 2.jpg
Lori Midson
This is part two of my interview with Jeff Osaka, exec chef of twelve. You can read part one of my interview with Osaka here.

Rules of conduct in your kitchen: I don't have any rules per se. The only thing I ask from my kitchen staff is to pay attention and be respectful. There's so much to learn in the restaurant business that if you don't pay attention, things will slip through the cracks, and I've been in too many kitchens with chefs who are yellers and screamers, and no one is motivated by that. I'd rather teach by example, which is why I'm in the kitchen every day. I make things fun at work.

Best food city in America: I love San Francisco, where I spent several years cooking, but I'm biased toward Los Angeles, which is my home town. Where else can you eat almost anything at all hours of the day? Khorovatz in Little Armenia, ramen in Little Tokyo, great al pastor off any taco truck around town, and, of course, great burgers at the home of In-N-Out.

Favorite New York restaurant: I haven't been to New York in ten years...but I do remember Babbo. The pastas were memorable and the osso bucco was fork-tender, but what really stood out was the service. We arrived for our 11 p.m. reservation, and despite being the last ones seated, we were treated like the first customer of the day.

Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I think my memory is getting worse the older I get, because I can't think of anything extremely embarrassing, although I'm sure I'm not alone with the usual accidents in the kitchen...shaving my fingertips off with a mandoline, forgetting to use a towel to handle a hot pan, forgetting to fire two steaks instead of one. But...I do have an embarrassing moment outside the kitchen that happened at a local sushi restaurant. I was here visiting a friend about 25 years ago, and being a "sea level" guy, I quickly learned that hanging out in high altitude was a bad transition. I stood up and passed out in the dining room, only to wake up with a guy leaning over me who had a strong smell of fish on his hands. I got up, sat down and tried to finish my dinner with the whole dining room staring at me.

Favorite music to cook by: I love all music, but in the morning and early afternoon, I'm by myself in the kitchen, so that's when I listen to NPR, because it keeps me current on the day's events. During this time, baking bread and doing pastries is my meditation before the hectic day starts; it's like a symphony in my head.

What's never in your kitchen? Chicken or beef base and anything artificial.

Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Wine geeks. They don't get the recognition they should, even though there's a ton of them in both Denver and Boulder. A couple of good friends, Ryan Gaudin at Mizuna and Aaron Forman at Table 6, really know their shit.

Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Critical customers. Let me explain what I mean before I put my foot in my mouth or the hate letters start pouring in. I opened twelve on a shoestring budget, haven't taken a salary since I moved here a year and a half ago, and yet people always insist on telling me what I should do to the restaurant: "You should put new lighting in the bathrooms, put pillows and new upholstery on the banquettes, do this, do that," they tell me. Last time I checked, all these things cost money. My biggest worry is keeping the lights on, let alone changing them. In any business -- but certainly in the restaurant business -- you quickly learn that you can't (and won't) please everyone. Luckily, I'm very fortunate that most of my customers are great and get what we're trying to do here.

Favorite cookbooks: When I started cooking, I used to buy a few cookbooks each month, but that's slowed down quite a bit in the past couple of years. One thing that has been constant, however, is my subscription to Art Culinaire. It's porn for chefs. I probably have close to 80 of the 94 books they've published. One day I'll have the complete set.


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