Masterpiece Delicatessen chef Justin Brunson on opening a new restaurant and his fetish for foie gras and lamb testicles
This is part one of Lori Midson's Q&A with Masterpiece Delicatessen chef/owner Justin Brunson. You can read part two of this interview right back here tomorrow.
It's 2:30 p.m., late by lunchtime standards, but Masterpiece Delicatessen, the heavyweight sandwich shop in Highland run by Justin Brunson and his partner, Steve Allee, is hopping -- inside and out. Brunson is parked at one of the few interior tables, hunched over his notebook scrawled with notes from our interview. "I write like shit," he says, apologizing more than once for his handwriting. "I finally got a computer about eight months ago, but all this technology stuff is still kinda new to me."
The restaurant business, however, is old hat for Brunson, who's done time in some of the best kitchens in town -- Luca D'Italia, Mizuna, Zengo and Adega (now Venice) among them. But while the thirty-year-old earl of sandwiches, soups and crazy-good specials, like a foie gras and duck confit version, could have easily opened a fine-dining emporium, he made the decision to unleash a deli on Denver in 2008 instead. "I'd always wanted to open a sandwich shop, and Denver needed something like that, plus the economy was in the shits, so it was the right thing to do at the right time, and we were lucky enough to get the right space," says Brunson, an Iowa native with a wide smile and bushy red beard that hangs past his neck.
Brunson is currently searching for a second space to stash another Masterpiece Deli, and he's also partnered with Ben Parsons, owner of the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery, to open Lechon, a restaurant right around the corner from the first Masterpiece, in 2012. Lechon, explains Brunson, will be a "loud bistro that's porky, fatty, gluttonous and, believe it or not, healthy" -- in so much as he'll make everything in-house and procure ingredients and proteins from the best sources available. "It's a restaurant inspired by all the foods I love to eat -- French, Italian, German, Thai, American and Japanese -- and we're going to use the absolute highest-quality ingredients we can find."
And just because Brunson likes to push the envelope, he also plans to serve three different foie gras preparations. "I don't care what everyone else thinks, I love foie gras," he declares unapologetically. "I want to explore food and techniques, teach and push myself to do better, and, most important, have a good time creating food that I love."
In this conversation, Brunson talks about his new restaurant; his obsession with lamb testicles, pigs and the Belly Shack; and why you'll never find him toying with molecular gastronomy.