Chef and Tell with Corey Cunningham from Baur's Ristorante
Corey Cunningham has cooked for Bill Cosby, former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, NASCAR and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- and he also once gave a cigarette to Queen Latifah. "Cooking for Bush was wild," recalls Cunningham, the executive chef at Baur's Ristorante. "There was a posse of Secret Service standing next to me and looking over my shoulder the entire time I was cooking, and they insisted on tasting everything I made. All that, and I never even got to meet Bush."
The thirty-year-old chef, who was born in Loveland and then bounced around New York, New Jersey and California, enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park -- a decision, he says, that was all about advancement of his culinary career. "I wanted to learn the simple steps to making a dish, the proper way to sauté and grill, and I wanted to have a degree so that I knew I'd really accomplished something," explains
Cunningham, who graduated CIA when he was just twenty years old. "To make it all the way through the curriculum, when something like 50 to 60 percent of students drop out completely or have to take classes over again, was a huge accomplishment."
So, too, was nailing at a job at Stonehill Tavern, a restaurant at the St. Regis in Monarch Beach, California, run by hot-shot chef Michael Mina. "I met Michael on my very first day of work, while he was doing a celebrity chef dinner," remembers Cunningham. "And then I never saw him again, which is what happens, I guess, when you're opening a million restaurants." Still, he says, it was "a great learning experience that taught me to really appreciate the value of working with good ingredients and to treat those ingredients with as much respect as possible."
Which is an axiom that Cunningham brought with him to Baur's, after returning to Colorado almost three years ago. "I'm all about great ingredients that haven't been bastardized by chemicals or subjected to overwrought preparations, and I love putting together a dish that's all mine, because it's like painting a picture, except you have the instant gratification of seeing people eat your food and telling you, hopefully, that they love it," he says. In the following interview, Cunningham talks more about his cooking philosophies, as well as his deference to swine and indifference to prima donna chefs.
Six words to describe your food: Simple, fresh, local, creative, approachable and seasonal.
Ten words to describe you: Outgoing, spontaneous, creative, funny, active, adventurous, loving, friendly and career-driven.
Favorite ingredient: Pork. Not only is it an amazing ingredient, but it's also a great cooking vessel. Instead of vegetable oil, I use rendered pork fat to cook other ingredients. I often use bacon or prosciutto to hold a dish together, and knuckles and feet for flavoring. Pork is unbelievably versatile.
Favorite thing to cook at home: Soft tacos with pintos cooked all day in the crockpot, ground beef, pico de gallo and cheddar and Jack cheeses in a flour tortilla.