Mike Sullivan, exec chef of Devil's Food, on Boulder's late-night college drunk-ass idiots
This is part one of my interview with Mike Sullivan, executive chef of Devil's Food Bakery & Cookery. Part two of my chat with Sullivan will run in this space tomorrow.
While hanging out on the back patio of Devil's Food Bakery and Cookery with Mike Sullivan, who runs the kitchen along with his brother, Adam, we hear a customer pronounce that the plate of eggs Benedict he's just polished off are "fucking sick." He contemplates ordering a second round -- a half portion -- but then, after a scolding from his dining companion, changes his mind, but not before proclaiming that "Devil's Food has changed a lot over the past year -- and definitely for the better."
Sullivan seems oblivious to the praise. He's too busy hailing the attributes of his brother, waxing rhapsodic about Maryland blue crabs and reflecting on whether Radek Cerny, the executive chef/owner of L'Atelier in Boulder, for whom Sullivan has worked, is mad, a genius, both or neither. "Radek is definitely a little crazy, and working for him was...interesting," says Sullivan, "but I learned more while working in that kitchen than anywhere else, mainly because he gave us a ton of freedom to do what we wanted, and he never, never skimped on the best ingredients. But I can tell you, too, that he didn't cook a whole lot."
Sullivan, on the other hand, has spent the past several years doing nothing but cooking -- first in Maryland, later in Providence, Rhode Island, on Cape Cod, and, most recently, in Boulder, where he spent six years on the lines of numerous restaurants, including West End Tavern, Mateo, the Kitchen, L'Atelier and the Pearl Street Pub, where, he laments, he "had to deal with Boulder's fucking spoiled, late-night college drunk-ass idiots." Still, Sullivan is quick to point out that it was a gig that offered solitude in the kitchen -- "I worked by myself and loved it," he says -- and his boss, who likes to keep a low profile, "was the most respectful guy I've ever worked for. He'd let you know when you messed up, but he thanked you for your hard work every single day."
Eventually, though, the "drunk-ass idiots" -- and Boulder in general -- grew boring, and, seeking new opportunities, Sullivan moved to Denver, where he became the chef of Devil's Food four months ago, working side by side with his brother, who'd joined the kitchen crew last year.
"The kitchen manager sucked and got fired, Adam needed more help, and the kitchen needed more structure and organization -- plus we'd worked together before and worked well together, and I love what we're doing here, especially with our suppertime menu," says Sullivan. "We're taking comfort food and Southern food that your grandmother made, and doing them right with some modern twists. The food is really amazing."
In the following interview, Sullivan lambastes those who call themselves "foodies," gives a shout-out to a Boulder restaurant that no one's ever heard of, and reveals what he learned from working in Cerny's kitchen.