Il Mondo Vecchio's Mark DeNittis on fat sausages, scrawny chicken feet and breasts
What's never in your kitchen? Slackers -- hate 'em -- and, more important, bad pathogens or microbes. Pathogens and bacteria are a very real concern associated with dry-cured treats prepared in my kitchen. Sure, charcuterie and salumi are very hip, trendy and cool, but you've got to be really mindful of the things lurking around that you can't see. To put it bluntly, there is no coolness factor, cookbook, restaurant or embroidery on a chef's coat that will protect consumers, chefs or restaurant owners against the potential pathogens and microbes associated with dry-cured, uncooked meats. There are no chicken feet in my kitchen, either.
What's always in your kitchen? At the Il Mondo Vecchio plant, there's always music, and of course, the banter that goes along with handling large amounts of meat and sausages. In my kitchen/meat lab at Johnson & Wales, there's a very serious and structured yet jovial learning environment. Not everyone is going to become a butcher, or a chef -- or even remain in the industry, for that matter -- but everyone will walk away from my kitchen taking something meaningful with them, whether it's an authentic hatred for standing in a cold room for six hours of lecturing and production, an ignited passion, a newfound respect for our food supply and sustainability, or the importance of clean and sanitary practices.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: I am a very process- and production-motivated matrix, which drives people crazy -- but it is what it is. I insist on organized, effortless motions and movements in the kitchen and a team that's as efficient, clean and sanitary as possible. I train my team to think about their actions and steps during a shift. How many kitchen tiles are you going to cross to accomplish how many tasks? Can you cross 100 tiles and get five things done? Ten things? Fifty things? The culinary world is not just about food and food costs; it's about efficiency and labor, which I can't stress enough. Oh, yeah...and please wash your hands. Frequently.
Favorite music to cook by: Metal and rock from the '80s, old-school rap, newer hip-hop, classical music, blues and bluegrass, and sometimes I throw on the Latino/Mexican radio station.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: More chefs walking the walk and not just talking the talk regarding the true local/sustainable movement. In part, this is not all their fault. Chefs have to be so mindful of getting product through the door and food costs, and at the end of the day, it's not always efficient or cost-effective to source micro-locally, but the fact of the matter is that some of what's hyped as "sustainable" and "local" on restaurant menus really isn't. Still, I trust that there can, and will be, more collaborative efforts on the part of us all to improve. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. I'd also like to see more national recognition for Denver's culinary talent. Our local talent is really stepping up to the plate, and they deserve more kudos for what they're doing.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Imported lamb, in particular from New Zealand, at retail outlets like Whole Foods. And there's a tremendous amount of menu repetition here; I absolutely hate that.
What's the best food or kitchen-related gift you've been given? An engraved ten-inch Henckels French knife from the culinary department of the Houstonian and Shadow Hawk Gold Clubs. My team gave it to me around my first anniversary, which coincided with the birth of our daughter. My exec sous, Miguelito Rodriguez, gave the knife to me, and I remember thinking, hey, cool, I can use it to cut the kid's umbilical cord. My wife is going to scream when she reads this and throw all my things on the lawn. Needless to say, she didn't like the idea, so that didn't happen. Still, it was a really heartfelt gift from one of those people I'll never forget.
Weirdest customer request: While I was working at a guest ranch resort, just north of Granby, a guest complained that the staff was eating better food than the guests. So we gave her Sysco's famous out-of-the-box, pre-battered "Honey Stung" deep-fried chicken with blanched frozen green beans and mashed 'taters. She was happier than a New England quahog. Go figure.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: A fish eyeball, by accident in 1982, when I was ten years old. We were visiting family in Reggio Calabria, and my cousin and I would go spear fishing in the morning. Whatever we caught was then cooked with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and served with pasta for lunch. I bit into a semi-hard whitish object that I thought was a piece of garlic, spit it out into my hand and looked at my dad, who quipped, "That's a fish eyeball, shithead!"