David Bumgardner, exec chef of Williams & Graham, on moving your ass
This is part one of my interview with David Bumgardner, exec chef of Williams & Graham. Part two of my chat with Bumgradner will run in this space tomorrow.
The executive chef of Williams & Graham is leaning over the dish pit, aggressively scrubbing a sauté pan with a stump of steel wool. He squints every so often to inspect his progress, lest he leave behind any residue. Attention to detail is important to David Bumgardner, who freely admits that he's just as comfortable doing dish duty as he is preparing pâtés and terrines. "I'm a damn good dishwasher," he deadpans, giving the aluminum one more sideways glance before he finally puts it back where it belongs.
Bumgardner is a damn good chef, too, although he doesn't seem to recognize it. Shy, introspective and humble -- almost to a fault -- the 35-year-old former American Greetings graphic artist from New Castle, Pennsylvania, didn't start cooking
professionally until his mid-twenties. "I moved to Denver, worked in a cubicle and traveled a lot, which is not how I wanted to live my life, and when the company I was working for closed down, it was my opportunity to do something completely different," recalls Bumgardner, who wasted no time getting his foot through the culinary door at Marczyk Fine Foods.
"I'd been a customer of Marczyk's since moving to Denver in 2003, and I loved their stuff, so I went up to Pete, who owns the market, and said that I'd do whatever it took to work there. I just knew that I wanted to be around food," says Bumgardner. He was hired as a cashier and eventually became a buyer for the market before he and the Marczyk crew "parted ways" in 2009.
The day he was bumped to the pavement, he went to Highland Tavern to find solace in friends and booze, a combination that turned out to be serendipitous. "I wanted to hang out with friends and commiserate my lack of a job, and as it turned out, Highland Tavern was just getting ready to open the kitchen, and the chef, Jeremy McMinn, asked me if I might want to help out."
Bumgardner cooked at Highland Tavern for the next few years, working his way up to the exec-chef title, and when he wasn't behind the line, he was hanging out at Steuben's, where he met Sean Kenyon, then the bar manager there. "Sean and I became friends," he explains, "and he mentioned that he wanted to open a speakeasy, and a few months later, he said he was ready and wondered if I'd be interested in being the chef."