Rachel Kesley, exec chef of WaterCourse Foods, on produce-driven menus, vegetarianism and her fascination with figs
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: I actually have the tremendous fortune to work for an owner who also has a one-acre urban farm, Hazel Rah, out in Lakewood. To have access and direct input on a farm is a dream come true for me. I spent a lot of time in the fall thinking about possible seeds we could plant and what fun and exotic things we could bring in on a regular basis. Last summer I got an amazing crop of corn, Bibb lettuces and some of the most fragrant herbs I've ever worked with.
Favorite spice: Smoked salts. I love the way they can bring out flavor while standing strong in their own role as an important element to any dish. In vegetarian cooking, it's hard to really capture that amazing smoky flavor in the proteins that we use, so using salts that have been smoked is a great way to enhance any dish.
One food you detest: I really, strongly dislike eggplant. It's a texture thing, I guess. I just don't get it. I think the color is amazing, but I just can't get past the sponge-like texture.
One food you can't live without: I love going out for sushi, love everything from the warm towel at the beginning of the meal to the sake, chopsticks and wasabi. Eating sushi is one of my favorite activities.
Biggest kitchen disaster: This actually happened fairly recently. It was a Friday, and I was helping the line during the lunch rush while making the night's special and trying to catch up on some office work -- you know, a typical day. Amid all that madness, I tried to shuffle our twenty-gallon stockpot off the burner, but while taking off the lid with a kitchen spoon -- mistake number one -- I got a second-degree steam burn at the top of my hand and wrist. It was an ugly wound that took me out of the kitchen for four days. The upside was that I got the chance to catch up on some much-needed office work.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Late-night tapas bars that serve amazing wine and espresso and well-thought-out small plates.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd like to see more produce-driven menus. Some of the most amazing fruits and vegetables can be found in and around Denver and Boulder, and they need to be center stage as opposed to just a side dish. We're moving into a time where people are more health-conscious and more sustainably minded, and having meat-heavy menus is neither one of those things.