Round two with Lon Symensma, exec chef of ChoLon
This is part two of my interview with Lon Symensma, executive chef of ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro. In part one of that interview, Symensma rips on bird's nests, extols the virtues of lop chong and admits that his favorite macaroni and cheese is made with Velveeta.
Favorite restaurant in America: Jean Georges. It's been one of New York City's four-star restaurants for years, and you'll always have an unforgettable meal there. Jean-Georges is French, but trained in the Asian realm, and he was one of the first chefs to lighten things up -- using lemongrass-infused broth and fresh juices, for example, instead of butter and high-caloric cream. It's a very cool and chic restaurant, not stuffy, and the waiters know the food really well, and Jean-Georges is just a really cool, well-rounded guy. I'm very proud to have worked there with that level of talent.
Best food city in America: New York is definitely where many of the best chefs in the world are located, and it's where I believe you find the highest level of talent and the widest range of cooking styles and cuisines. If you can't represent what you do with consistency on that level, you'll get destroyed -- and that keeps the bar extremely high.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I've had great meals at Fruition, twelve and the Kitchen in Boulder. When I'm off, I also enjoy the dim sum at Super Star Asian, the pho with a side of cubed brisket at Pho Duy, and I get my Mexican fix at the Los Carboncitos on Sheridan.
Favorite dish to cook at home: I usually make something on the fly with whatever's in our kitchen at the time, and sometimes I have to get really creative. Whenever possible, it's been all about the outdoor grill, especially since I have a back yard for the first time in years. My fiancée got me a charcoal-and-gas-combo grill a week after we moved in, and on the charcoal side there's a crank to get the grill rack as close to or as far from the charcoal as you want. I love cooking over charcoal, and that feature is great.
Favorite dish on your menu: A few months ago, I sat down and had dinner at ChoLon for the first time when my family was visiting, and we pretty much went through the entire menu, and afterward, I was most impressed with the roasted chicken dish. I think it's the best chicken I've ever made.
If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? My own version of chili crab, using Dungeness crab served in the shell. It's one of the most popular dishes in Singapore, and I'd love to do it here, but it can be really messy to eat, which may not appeal to some guests.
Current Denver culinary genius: I have a lot of respect for Alex Seidel and what he's doing at Fruition and Fruition Farms. They just started producing Pecorino, which is great. Part of my excitement about moving from New York to Denver was to explore opportunities that were previously unavailable to me. We're in our own planning stages of building a rooftop garden, and I'm really looking forward to experiencing the pride you feel from using product that you've grown and harvested on your own.