Chef and Tell with James Mazzio

Most overrated ingredient: Olive oil with bread. All it does is disguise the taste, plus it always soaks into the bread and ruins the texture. Bread should be served with butter. Not olive oil. Ever.

Most undervalued ingredient: Fresh vegetables. I always look at plates and wonder why there's such an absence of fresh vegetables. You see lots of vegetable sauces and elements of vegetables, but what about bringing the vegetable out as a primary ingredient? Everything always comes with a damn starch, and protein and starch don't digest the same. Not too many people know that, but it's true.

Favorite local ingredient: Black Angus beef from Greeley.

One food you detest: Breadfruit from Jamaica. It was disgusting. Durian is pretty bad, too. I had to try both of them on national TV, on Sara Moulton Live, which made it even worse.

One food you can't live without: Mirepoix. I cook a lot of soups and stews and do a lot of braises, and you can't make any of those without mirepoix. I would know the smell of sweating carrots, leeks, onions and celery anywhere. It comforts me.

Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I was cooking at Restaurant Daniel, and one of the cooks asked me get a couple of sheet pans, so I grabbed a few from the speed rack in the pastry kitchen without paying a whole lot of attention to what was on them. I brought them downstairs, and the cook looked in between the sheet pans and completely freaked the hell out -- you got reamed for everything in that kitchen -- because there were these unbelievably delicate little cookies on parchment paper in between the two sheet pans. I went running back up the stairs to return the sheet pans and totally fell. So did the cookies, so I was down on my hands and knees picking them up as fast as I could and trying to put them all back exactly where the grease impressions were. I was sweating like crazy and my heart was racing. I wanted to shoot vodka after that.

What's never in your kitchen? A dull moment.

Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Gourmet hot dogs from Biker Jim's.

Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Drive to be a great culinary city. There are enough chefs here pushing for culinary greatness, but the fact of the matter is that Denver doesn't have enough foodies to appreciate their efforts. The people who eat out in Denver don't have the same drive as the chefs to elevate the Denver dining scene. I'm probably going to get hate mail for that comment, but it's true. Unless people embrace and support what we're doing, Denver will never be a great food city. That's just the way it is.

Favorite celebrity chef: Mario Batali, who's just an all-around great guy. I like real people, and he's always been very gracious to me, plus his food is unbelievable. Shit, I could talk about Mario forever. How much time do you have? I mean, the guy just kills it. I love Anthony Bourdain, too. He's doing what I want to do: travel the world and eat weird food.

Celebrity chef who should shut up: I've seen enough of Bobby Flay for a lifetime.

What's your favorite knife? I have a ten-inch Wüsthof named "Prep Bitch" that I've had for fifteen years. She's never let me down yet.

Hardest lesson you've learned: Managing people is tough. If you're too hard on them, they run away; too soft, and they run all over you.

What's next for you? I'm opening a new restaurant and deli in Littleton, Olive Oil and Pickles, that I'm really, really excited about. Eventually, I'd love to do a small neighborhood restaurant again, like I did in Boulder, but it's a huge commitment, and I still have tons to learn. I'm always learning.

This is part one of James Mazzio's Chef and Tell interview. Click here to read part two of the interview.

Pickles Deli and Olive Oil
5869 South Alkire Street, Littleton
303-551-7000


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