Lon Symensma, exec chef of ChoLon, rips on bird's nests, extols the virtues of lop chong and admits that his favorite macaroni and cheese is made with Velveeta
Biggest kitchen disaster: I lived in France for a year shortly after I graduated from culinary school, and I was spending some time with a friend at Daniel Boulud's family's house outside of Lyon because my friend was married to his nephew. We were cooking Easter dinner for the family, and I was making tripe, which I didn't have much experience working with. Tripe is part of an animal's stomach that has small holes all over it and kind of looks like honeycomb, and when I put it in a really hot pan of oil, I guess it wasn't thoroughly dry, and the oil splattered all over my face and arms -- and on some other people as well. The burn marks were still there when we sat down for dinner. It was definitely one of the most embarrassing experiences I've ever had in a kitchen.
What's never in your kitchen? Iodized salt, canned water chestnuts, pasteurized crab, pre-packaged ice creams or desserts and lazy cooks.
What's always in your kitchen? Grapeseed oil, a Vita-Prep and a sense of urgency.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Food trucks and better Indian, Thai and barbecue options.
Aside from chains, what you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'm still fairly new in town, and I haven't been out as much as I'd like since the restaurant opened, but I have noticed the proliferation of bad Mexican food. Before we moved out here, I thought the Mexican food scene would be a lot more developed than it is, but it seems to be more about quantity than quality.
Weirdest customer request: I did a dinner party for a couple in the Hamptons, and I was asked to change the morel-mushroom-and-asparagus appetizer I'd put on my proposed menu. Apparently, it was because there was only one bathroom in the pool house where the guests were dining, and the wife didn't want everyone to smell each other's "asparagus pee."
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I saw people lining up for a food stand that was at the end of a pier on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and while I couldn't get to the front to see what they were serving, I got in line anyway since whatever it was seemed in high demand. When I finally got to the front, I was handed an egg with a hole at the top of the shell so you could drink the fluid and see the duck embryo inside. I decided to give it a try, but it's pretty hard to get past the little feathers.
Hardest lesson you've learned, and how you've changed because of it: I've learned that you must spend time in and work through each station of the kitchen before becoming a true chef and leader. If you can't hop on any cook's station and show them why you're the one in charge, then you can never be a real leader or someone whom your cooks can look up to. Although it's not necessarily the most financially rewarding path to take, the result is well worth the effort, and the result is a more well-rounded career.
Last meal before you die: I'd like for it to be many, many courses somewhere on a beach, and it would have to include a grilled ribeye steak and a side of macaroni and cheese.