Japoix's Jay Spickelmier on Twinkies, the roux on the floor and plumber butts
This is part one of Lori Midson's interview with Jay Spickelmier, executive chef of Japoix. To read part two of that interview, check back here tomorrow.
Jay Spickelmier is wrist-deep in a large, deep, flat-bottomed wooden bowl swelled with vinegared rice. It's a hangiri, he says, vigorously stirring and scraping the grains from the sides. A hangiri, it turns out, is a staple in Japanese kitchens that's used to season and cool sushi rice, a huge batch of which is commanding Spickelmier's attention. He's in his kitchen at Japoix, and the lounge crowd, a Sunday congregation of Denver Broncos believers, is ordering sushi up the ying-yang.
So far, so good, Spickelmier says of Japoix, the polished French-Asian restaurant he opened last month in the Beauvallon with Lawrence Yee, the former manager of Jing in Greenwood Village. The 31-year-old chef from New Jersey, whose first restaurant gig was getting his hands dirty in the dish pit at Dozen's, an iconic breakfast joint in Aurora, has come a long way since then. He's cooked with Dave Query, James Mazzio and Mark Ferguson, the executive chef of Spago in the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, where he had the opportunity to breathe the same air as Wolfgang Puck, king of the Spago empire. "Wolfgang would walk through the kitchen and bust our balls, telling us not to be cheap and to use more butter, or that we needed more rice in our wiener -- you know, schnitzel," deadpans Spickelmier, who was Spago's chef de cuisine for nearly two years, before getting a phone call from Yee that would soon turn his focus to stir-fries and sesame sauce.
"Lawrence and I grew up together, and Charlie [Huang], who owns Jing, offered me an opportunity that I couldn't turn down," recalls Spickelmier. "It was an interesting experience -- wok central -- but Charlie was a difficult man to work for, and we had an agreement that he didn't honor, so I decided that I was done with it."
Spickelmier headed back to the mountains -- specifically to Ludwig's in Vail, where he was the chef until Yee reached out to him again in February, this time with news that he was opening his own restaurant, followed by an invitation to spearhead the kitchen. "July 4th was my last day at Ludwig's, so I guess you could say that I gained my independence on Independence Day," Spickelmier jokes. "I love what we're doing here at Japoix. Every day, I have the opportunity to make people happy through my food, and I love cooking, because it's a continuous progression. The kitchen life embodies everything I could ask for in a career: creativity, energy and nourishing people."
In the following interview, Spickelmier talks about his love affair with uni and olives, the culinary culture of Chicago, and which Denver restaurant -- other than his own -- he finds himself frequenting the most.