Part two: Chef and Tell with Virgilio Urbano from Virgilio's
Culinary inspirations: My mama, who I've always called, "ma-MAH," did all of the cooking for our family -- that's what she lives for -- and I've learned pretty much everything I know from her. And I'm very inspired by the country where I was born, Italy. I'll never forget the trip I took back there in 1972 when I was just nine to revisit Ruviano, the place where I was born. We stayed on my mother's farm for most of the trip, and up until then, I guess I never realized how important food was to Italians. Everything is so fresh.... We caught pigeons in the square holes that were designed exactly for that purpose; we caught rabbits in their pen and slaughtered a pig, which was always a big family event. All of the vegetables and fruits were homegrown, and the butter and milk were made from their cows. The one thing that still really stands out for me was the size of the meals we ate. Every meal was bigger than the next; you just ate and ate and ate. I was ninety pounds when I left to go to Italy, and when I returned to America, all that inspiration made me 45 pounds fatter. In other words, I was an Italian meatball at nine years old.
Favorite music to cook by: Andrea Bocelli. Some of his songs send chills through my body -- really love Sogno. I also like to listen to Quiet Riot's "Cum On Feel the Noize." It's fun to crank up the volume and dance in the kitchen.
Most overrated ingredient: Oregano. I know a lot of Italians use it in their cooking, but it doesn't belong in a true marinara sauce, which should be subtle. It's an overpowering spice that only belongs in certain things, like pizza sauce, which requires a little zing.
Most undervalued ingredient: Really, no ingredient is undervalued, so long as it's an essential part of a dish. Foods are about subtleties in taste, smell, appearance and aroma, and every ingredient contributes to that. Personally, I love cilantro in everything.
Favorite local ingredient: Freshly made sausage from Carmine Lonardo's Italian Meat Deli. If you want a special sausage, like what he makes for us at the restaurant, just ask Tony. He's been making the best sausage in Denver since 1948.
Best recent food find: The hot pot with spinach, squid and noodles at JJ Chinese Seafood on Alameda.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: No excuses, no baggy pants or underwear showing; you gotta wear shirts with collars and hats and be clean-cut and well-groomed.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: More neighborhood ethnic restaurants, specifically Thai and Vietnamese -- and not just on Federal. And I'd love to see more late-night dining spots. Restaurant people work long, late hours; we like to eat too. JJ's Chinese, Steuben's and Lala's Wine Bar all have some excellent late-night menus, but we could certainly benefit from having a lot more.