Part two: Chef and Tell with Aaron Youngblood from Dixons Downtown Grill
This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Aaron Youngblood, executive chef of Dixons Downtown Grill. Read part one of Midson's interview with Youngblood.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Be on time; work clean; respect your peers; maintain professionalism even when you're away from the restaurant; be accountable for your actions; and do everything exactly as I show you. I have an ahi tuna dish on the lunch and dinner menu that's got three sauces on it, and I'm old-fashioned in that I line them up side by side. It's easy for me, but some of the guys can't do it, and I've totally lost my cool because of it. If they don't hit the sauces with the toothpick just right, I'll make them redo it. I'm the same way about slicing the club sandwich on the diagonal and cutting it into four pieces. It has to be cut perfectly on the bias, otherwise I'll throw it away. All that said, I encourage goofing off and having fun -- as long as the work's getting done.
Favorite restaurant in America: My favorite restaurant in America is in Las Vegas, the greatest city in the world and one that's known for its dining. In the casino high-rise The Palms, there's the most amazing sushi place I've ever been -- Little Buddha -- and it's incredible. It left such an impression on me that I compare it to every other sushi restaurant I visit. The food, sake, service and design of the concept is planned and executed perfectly.
Best food city in America: One could argue that it's New York, San Francisco or Chicago, and I would probably agree. But the chefs here at home are rapidly approaching superstar status. We have the best local ingredients -- naturals and organics -- and so many homegrown chefs who know how to use them. There are new restaurants popping up all the time, and I'm seeing a lot of innovation within the competition we have here. I'm constantly surprised by how good everything is, especially some of the Colorado wines. It's really fun to see what's happening now -- and to think about what's coming in the future.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Rioja, without a doubt. I love everything there and have never had a less than exceptional experience. Chef Jennifer just has it together, and her artichoke tortelloni is the best thing I've ever had. She has me as a customer for life.
Favorite music to cook by: When I'm doing prep, it's the Ramones, the Clash or the Hollies. When more speed and a higher gear are required, then it's Pantera or Anthrax.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? My stick blender. I love it. It's a tool that's invaluable for homemade dressings, purées, foams and soups. I received it as a gift about six years ago, and it's still alive.
Favorite dish to cook at home: I like to grill more than just about anything else. My favorite meal when I cook for two, or ten, is a mixed grill -- jerk-molasses pork, smoked scallops, king crab, artichokes and corn. I'm not immune to standing outside in sub-freezing temperatures and nursing a charcoal grill back out of hibernation.
Favorite dish on your menu: The Bleu Burger -- a grilled half-pound patty with black pepper and bleu cheese on a soft brioche roll, with all of the accompaniments. I add jalapeños and bacon, and it's a thing of beauty.