The Cherry Cricket's Antonio Gorjoux on the day he nearly got fired, eating cow-eye tacos, and the secrets behind the Cricket burger
This is part one of my Chef and Tell interview with Antonio Gorjoux, kitchen manager of the Cherry Cricket. Part two of that interview will run in this space tomorrow.
"Chef is a big word," insists Antonio Gorjoux, "and I am not a chef."
Minutes after saying this, he makes a beeline for the kitchen, pausing to check the schedule, a clipboard of papers jotted with the names of more than three dozen employees -- line cooks, prep guys and dishwashers -- the majority of whom seem to be working this Tuesday, one of the coldest days on record for Colorado. And they all report to Gorjoux, the kitchen manager of the Cherry Cricket, which, as usual, has a packed house, despite the frigid temps.
But inside Gorjoux's kitchen, it's hot with the sizzle of burgers on the grill and frings in the fryer, and Gorjoux seems very much at ease, joking with his crew, poking fun at himself and posing for photos. "One day," he says, "I want to be a chef, and I want to have my own restaurant -- maybe a Cherry Cricket in Cancún -- but this isn't a fancy restaurant, and I'm not a chef, although I am very, very proud of what we do here.
Gorjoux, who was born in Mexico City, has been at the Cricket for fifteen years, the kitchen manager for the past twelve. "It was 1995, I had just moved to Denver and saw an ad in the paper for a line-cook position, and I had to interview with three different people before they hired me," recalls Gorjoux, who had spent several years before that working in a Chinese restaurant in a small town deep in the heart of Texas, a job that prepared him for the pressures of commanding a high-volume kitchen. "It was like boot camp," he says, "and the guys were really, really hard on me, but I moved around the kitchen a lot doing several different jobs, including cooking, and I learned how to be incredibly fast with a knife."
It was a skill he'd wanted to learn much sooner. "When I was a kid, I was always helping my mom cook -- or at least trying to help -- but she'd only give me the small tasks, like washing vegetables, when in reality I wanted to chop vegetables," he remembers. That wasn't the only aspiration his parents quashed. "My dad wouldn't let me go to culinary school -- kitchens, he told me, were for women -- and I'm not a rebel, so I didn't argue," says Gorjoux. Instead, he went to a private university in Mexico City to pursue a business administration degree, but he soon dropped out and moved to a small Mexican border town to open a restaurant that sold huaraches. That lasted two years. "For whatever reason," he muses, "people weren't very receptive."
That's not a problem at the Cricket, a restaurant icon that's gained a national reputation for its burgers, which have been pimped on Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels and Man v. Food, and soon will get more props on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. "I love what I do, I love that we're always busy, I love the challenge of handling the volume, and I love that we're recognized for our burgers, which I really do think are the best in Denver," says Gorjoux.
In this interview, he takes time away from his insanely busy kitchen to dish on the day he nearly got fired, recount his experience eating cow-eye tacos, and reveal the secrets behind the Cricket burger.