Round two with Udi's executive chef Robin Baron
This is part two of my interview with Robin Baron, executive chef of Udi's Pizza Bar, Udi's Bread Cafe and the soon-to-be-open Pickled Lemon in Boulder. Part one of my interview with Baron ran yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: Casa Mono. The executive chef, Andy Nusser, is brilliant, and I could eat at his restaurant every day. His flavors are clean and bright, and his food is traditionally Spanish -- but with a twist. He makes rice with fidellos and then tops it with fresh sea urchin, for example. It's incredible -- a rich and creamy flavor bomb. And while his dishes comprised only a few ingredients, the execution is great, and he gets a lot of flavor from char and the brightness of lemons. You crave his food for years -- no joke. I haven't eaten Spanish food like that anywhere else in the world. I love, too, that you can just roll in off the street and have a great glass of wine and some of the best-shaved jamón anywhere. There are a lot of regulars and industry people there, too, so the place feels very much like a local hangout, plus the staff is friendly, down to earth and knowledgeable.
Best food city in America: While San Francisco has incredible produce, I've got to say New York in the best food city. There's an energy there that constantly drives people to experiment or spin out an old classic, and on top of that, New York has tons of authentic "flavor." As a cook, you're almost over-saturated with inspiration.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: The flavors in the dishes at Chada Thai are complex, layered and completely craveable, and the chef really focuses on using great ingredients. Just order her brown rice, or her sticky rice with warm coconut and toasted sesame seeds, and you'll be blown away. Every once in a while, I love to get a chopped-up duck from King's Land; it's delicious, sweet and fatty. I also go to Buchi Cafe Cubano a lot for their rice, beans, fried plantains and the best mojo sauce. They've also got a liquor license and they're expanding, so I can't wait for that.
Current Denver culinary genius: Wayne at Sushi Sasa is amazing. He's meticulous, creative and firmly rooted in the basics and technique, although he slips in some new combos under the radar, so you have to keep your eye out for that. Strawberries with avocado? Genius. They also make everything with love, and you can tell that a lot of thought goes into every menu item.
Favorite local chef: Chef John Broening, and his wife and pastry chef, Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, are an amazingly talented couple. John's food is solid, elevated versions of classics, and Yasmin's desserts are refined, sophisticated and not overly sweet. She doesn't compromise the flavor and quality of ingredients by covering it with lots of sugar.
Favorite celebrity chef: I haven't had a television in about ten years, so I'm a little out of the loop, but I'd have to give props to Ilan Hall. We worked together at Casa Mono in New York, and aside from being a good friend and tons of fun to work with, he has so much heart for the kitchen and so much passion for food. At Casa Mono, he always wanted to cook family meal, and he would dedicate so much time and attention to making a great one. I remember him roasting chickens and basting them with a special sauce every fifteen minutes for a whole hour -- just for staff meal.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? I would love to cook for my grandmother. Usually I'm her kitchen bitch, but I'd love to let her relax and lay out a nice meal for her. I'd attempt to make some of her greatest dishes: rice- and beef-stuffed red peppers, apricot-potato dumplings and Viennese poppyseed rolls. I'd also love to cook for Andy Nusser or Ido Ben-Shmuel. They were such great teachers; I owe them so much gratitude.