David Bumgardner, exec chef of Williams & Graham, on moving your ass
He didn't hesitate. "Sean and I talked a lot about the history of cocktails and speakeasys, which fascinated me," Bumgardner says, "and once I started doing some research and looking at old menus, I figured out how I could play with all of these great snacky things and appetizers -- food that I imagined would fit in well in a speakeasy, food that people would want to enjoy with cocktails without feeling gorged."
But if you do want to binge, Bumgardner makes a very good case for pork in the following interview, in which he also names alcohol as his favorite ingredient, decries food-marketing tactics and admits that when it comes to Sunday drivers, he's a prick.
Six words to describe your food: I try to make my food simple, elegant and inspired. I want my dishes to speak for themselves -- to say all the things I can't. Other times, my food is whimsical, random or just flat-out nonsense, like the time I mixed yakisoba noodles with green chile at home. It was an experiment -- and a disaster.
Ten words to describe you: I'll say this using a minimal number of medico-logical descriptors: Awkward, introspective, ergomaniac, intense, sensitive, observant, sarcastic, obsessive, paradoxical and shy.
Favorite ingredient: I'm sure I'm supposed to say pork, but right now, I'm going with alcohol. Part of it stems from my experiences of living and working in Denver and cooking at Williams & Graham. Being around so many fantastic spirits, knowing the best bartenders, meeting the most talented distillers, winemakers and brewers from around the country and the world -- just talking to these people gets my mind working. Sweetness, acid, smoke, fruit and earth -- you can find it all in a bottle somewhere. It's nothing mind-blowing or avant-garde, and I don't expect anyone to find themselves saying, "Wow, I never thought of that!" -- but we all know that food and drink go together. All I'm saying is whether it's a can of Pabst, a little mezcal or some insane botanical you've never heard of, you can alter and enhance food with the booze you choose.
Best recent food find: The best thing I've found recently isn't food at all, but a person -- namely, Jeff Bauman, who owns the Pig & Block Charcuterie, just down the street from us. We met last summer while doing the buildouts of both our places, and once we got to know each other and started hanging out on the block, I discovered something that I'd been missing for a while: someone I could totally nerd out with over meat and cooking, which we did, practically every day, in my kitchen or his. Jeff's a huge presence; he just gets so animated and visibly excited when he talks about products, techniques and his experiences. He's really been a big influence when it comes to my passion for food -- the real love of it and being in love with it -- especially during our construction, when the days were long and dirty and I was thinking about picking up part-time work just so I didn't forget how to cook. And then there he'd be, with a little cognac, a slice or five of terrine, salami or some other goodness, and a story about France or Spain or some other place I've never been, or the bocce court he wants to build behind his shop. He's become a great friend, a great partner for us, and a daily reminder of why we do what we do.
Most overrated ingredient: Food marketing. I'm all about eating the best you can get, but slapping a name on something, along with an exorbitant price tag, doesn't automatically make it better. A lot of things are more expensive because they truly are better, and to raise animals or grow crops humanely and truly naturally takes care -- and care costs money. I get it, and I love it. But telling me that your 100 percent Berkshire hog is better than another 100 percent Berkshire hog, and that it's $3 more a pound because you're selling it under its Japanese name? That I don't get so much. I'd rather we, as a society, were more concerned with simply raising and growing better food for everyone than touting Kobe hot dogs for $35 a pound. Sure, they're delicious -- at that price, they should be. But if it's Kobe -- or American Wagyu -- beef, and you're paying a premium price for premium beef, wouldn't you rather appreciate it in its natural state?