Round two with Hideaway Steakhouse chef Chris Cina
This is part two of my interview with Chris Cina, executive chef of Hideaway Steakhouse. Part one of that interview ran in this space yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. I worked with Sean Kelly when he first opened Aubergine Cafe in Denver, and he was doing the Judy Rodgers roast chicken from Zuni on Sundays. It was the most comforting food ever. When I went to San Francisco, I went to Zuni Cafe to see the place for myself. The food is simple, rustic and the perfect blend of America, Italy and France. There are tons of restaurants I want to get to, but Zuni is the one place I always want to go back to -- that's how I know it's my favorite restaurant.
Best food city in America: That's so tough to answer. New York and San Francisco are the pinnacles of culinary excellence in the U.S., but with the national food explosion that started ten to fifteen years ago, cities like Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle and even Boulder are closing the gap. I guess if I were looking to spend a week doing nothing but eating, I would do it in Chicago; it seems like that's where most of the new ideas are coming from lately.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Currently it's Bittersweet, before that it was Tables, and before that, it was Rioja. I tend to fall in love quickly, especially when it comes to dining out. If the food is well executed and took some obvious thought, I'm a quick fan. Olav Peterson, the chef at Bittersweet, makes food that's like that: clean, thoughtful, and done with a purpose. He's probably the most cerebral chef I know.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I think Denver, and especially Boulder, have finally gotten to a point where there really isn't anything lacking. Denver has done well nationally with Alex Seidel winning a Best New Chef award from Food & Wine magazine; Frank Bonanno was on No Reservations and Hosea Rosenberg won Top Chef, so I can't say we need more media coverage of what we're doing here. We have great ethnic restaurants, the city is sponsoring efforts for more street-food vendors, and the food-truck craze is well entrenched -- even if the city hasn't made it easy. Most chefs in Denver or Boulder have some sort of connection to local products, so maybe the best thing to say is that I'd like to see more of what's already being done.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Less "farm-to-table," "farm-to-fork," "farm-to-city," "farm-to-chef" lingo, claims and classifications. Do we really need to advertise something we should already be doing?
Current Denver culinary genius: Troy Guard has it going on right now. I didn't know anything about Troy until my wife and I went in to Nine 75 just after it opened. We loved that place, and I was really excited when TAG opened, and TAG | RAW BAR seemed like an intelligent, if not natural, progression. I'm still looking forward to getting in there, and since my schedule here is starting to lighten up, I'm assuming that's the next place I'll fall in love with.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? In 1998, David Steinmann, who used to be a chef at the Fourth Story, gave me a Benriner slicer that he'd gotten on a trip to San Francisco. It's a little plastic mandolin that shaves vegetables paper-thin -- and I used it a ton. I still keep two of them in my kitchen box at all times. I haven't received anything good lately; perhaps everyone thinks I already have everything.