Root Down's Justin Cucci dishes on pot, pussy and soup talk

Justincucci1.jpg
Lori Midson

Justin Cucci
Root Down
1600 West 33rd Avenue
303-993-4200
www.rootdowndenver.com

This is part one of my interview with Justin Cucci, owner and executive chef of Root Down and Linger. Part two of my interview will run in this space tomorrow.

Justin Cucci has spent the majority of his life in restaurants, having taken his first baby steps at the Waverly Inn, a heralded New York restaurant opened by his grandparents more than forty years ago. "I learned to walk there. I ate there and basically lived there for the first 25 years of my life -- mainly because the food was better and there were cuter girls than at home," says Cucci, the owner/executive chef of Root Down and, soon, Linger, a small-plate restaurant opening in Highland in May.

Cucci's infant steps soon led to bigger ones, and by the time he turned eighteen, he was firmly entrenched in the family business, taking turns as a busboy, bartender, server, floor manager and occasional chump. "The kitchen at the Waverly wasn't the teaching type, so I made it to the salad and pantry stations -- the chump stations -- but there was a strict code that it was the chef's kitchen and we had to stay out of it," recalls Cucci, who eventually managed his grandparents' restaurant. "I'd gone to college for a semester, dropped out, professed my love for the restaurant and convinced them to let me run it," which he did -- for eight years -- until his grandparents decided to sell it.

He stuck around for another year, but with new owners, the Waverly became "a different restaurant," he remembers, so he made his exit, bumped around New York for a while and then moved to Key West, where his mom and sister were living -- and where Cucci got his first real job in the kitchen. "I had decided that I ultimately wanted to be a chef -- that I wanted to get into the kitchen, if for no other reason than the back of the house could drink and play Steely Dan, unlike the front of the house, which has a lot of rules," explains Cucci. So he got a job as a line cook during the breakfast shift. "I loved that job, and I loved rocking breakfast. It's still my favorite meal," he says.

Unfortunately, he also had an obsession with orange juice that got him axed. "I got fired -- not for drinking booze -- but for drinking too much orange juice," confesses Cucci, who evened the score when he bought the restaurant from which he'd just been fired, turning it into a fast-casual joint that focused on vegetables. "It took off like a bomb," says Cucci, who then went on to open a "Floribian" restaurant -- a cross between Floridian and Caribbean -- before deciding that he was hungry for something else. Like a move to Denver.


My Voice Nation Help
12 comments
Aurasrgray
Aurasrgray

As a female chef it sounds to me like he's a fan and supporter of Da Poosy! I like this cat!

SwS
SwS

I'd like to know how these interviews are conducted? Are they in person or email? The quote that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism is my new favorite.

Lipster
Lipster

It's interesting that he uses "pussies" as a derogatory term and then, in nearly the same breath, refers to all of the women who work in his kitchen as "pussy." Classy.

Azappe
Azappe

I love working for this man. Humor and integrity. Right on.

booyah
booyah

this man gets it.

SmokingLoon
SmokingLoon

I am in complete agreement with hendo.

hendo
hendo

best Chef and Tell ever.... finally a chef with some character.

chickensaucer
chickensaucer

Don't be such a bunch of pussies! Its a great read, clearly planned out. As any chef know's it's all about your mise en place, and he clearly had everything in it's place for this one! Well played-

tryagain
tryagain

This is not a matter of semantics or what the meaning is behind the word "pussy or pussies", it is a matter of couth.  Why put some people off with such a derogatory word when you are trying to promote yourself and your restaurant.   Sometimes we get a little carried with ourselves and think it's okay to say whatever comes to mind....

pleaseletsfixthis
pleaseletsfixthis

Yeah, also the "pro-women in the kitchen" statement. But he does give credit to a lot of good female chefs and restaurant owners.

But some men, once they get into power, prefer other women as workers, because they, correctly or not, perceive women as less threatening to their dominance.

Very ambiguous.

"Pussy" can be an inarticulate and misogynist term for "cowardly." I wish people would use that word instead.

And since he does feel many women have helped him in his career, it would be nice if he referred to us as women, not "pussy."

Azappe
Azappe

As a woman who works for this man, I consider him to be a feminist and not someone who is protecting his dominance. Let's not get worked up about words. Pussy, Pussies whatever, I like all of it and it makes for an interesting read. Gender need not apply to any of these words, it's what we allow it to mean in our lives that matters.

pleaseletsfixthis
pleaseletsfixthis

If he were my boss, I would be very concerned about what HE means by the term.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...