Bob Wiltshire, exec chef of Morton's LoDo, talks about foams, cinnamon rolls and the dearth of napkins and coasters in Denver bars
1710 Wynkoop Street
This is part one of Lori Midson' Chef and Tell interview with Bob Wiltshire, To read part two of that interview, check back here tomorrow.
Blame Bob Wiltshire's mother and a vocational high school for his culinary prowess. "When I was very young, I would bake fresh breads and cookies with my mom and my sister, but since my mom wasn't a great cook, she joked that I got into cooking for self-preservation purposes," says Wiltshire, the executive chef of the Morton's in LoDo.
He knew, too, that he wasn't up for a predictable high-school experience, where academics took precedence over experience: "I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that a regular high school wasn't for me, so I enrolled in a vocational high school." There he had to sign up for three shop courses, and "I chose culinary arts, computers and machine shop," he recalls, "and then they gave me welding, which was an awful experience." Eventually, he did wind up in culinary classes, and "I was really pretty good at it," says Wiltshire, who went on to enroll in the culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, a move that landed him a gig in a fish-fry joint he describes as "the largest and busiest restaurant I've ever worked in, with sixty feet worth of tickets on any given night."
A good friend convinced Wiltshire to give up the fish-fry life for Colorado -- specifically, Fort Collins, where he snagged a position at Jay's Bistro. "I took the first job I could get, and it turned out to be a good one, because I started out as a line cook during lunch and, within a year and a half, became the executive chef," remembers Wiltshire, who worked the line for three years. "I was asked to leave, but I was okay with that, because the owner's whole life was the restaurant, and I didn't want to make the restaurant my whole life," he says.
So he headed down to Denver, walked through the door of Morton's, snapped up a line-cook stint and was ultimately given the top job when the executive chef got the boot. "After nearly eight years, I still really enjoy coming to work," says Wiltshire. "The company takes really good care of me, I love the people I work with, I have great hours and a fun life, and we're really like a little family here."
That's not to say that he's oblivious to the snide criticisms often associated with working for a corporate chain, especially a steakhouse. "I realize that we have a ton of steakhouses in Denver, but Morton's was one of the original steakhouses, and we put out the best product we can and offer really great service -- and that's why people keep coming back," Wilshire insists. "As far as I'm concerned, people can say and do whatever they want, but my job is to make people happy, and we're successful at doing that." Fact is, he contends, "if you give most people in Denver a choice between a fancy restaurant with food they've never heard of or a steakhouse, most people will go for the steak."
In this interview, Wiltshire talks about how he'd love to feed a slab of beef to Lance Armstrong, his nonchalance when it comes to bugs, his puzzlement over foam and how he wishes that Denver bartenders would pay as much attention to napkins and coasters as they do to mixing cocktails.
Six words to describe your food: Fresh, simple, elegant, nutritious, creative and innovative.
Ten words to describe you: Caring, athletic, passionate, goofy, sincere, adventurous, spontaneous, healthy, Trekkie.
Culinary inspirations: The love and respect of food and the happiness that it gives people. Food is a social bonding agent that brings people together. Specifically, the Thanksgiving luncheon that we do for underprivileged children every year -- the kids have such a good time -- reminds me of why I love to cook for people.
Best food city in America: Boston. The fresh seafood, atmosphere and feeling of being on the harbor, eating lobster and clam chowder on a nice summer night or day -- it all just reminds me of growing up in Boston.
Best food city in the world: When it comes to food, there's no better city than Paris. From the outdoor markets where you can buy a little cheese, a baguette and any kind of meat, to the coffee shops, brasseries, creperies and great wine, Paris represents what food is really all about: flavor, freshness and simplicity.
Favorite music to cook by: Music is my worst subject. I have an iPhone and have zero music downloaded, and I don't know the names of bands. But when we do listen to music, it's usually good old-fashioned rock and roll, and sometimes sports radio.