Round two with Hunter Pritchett, exec chef of Luca d'Italia
This is part two of my interview with Hunter Pritchett, exec chef of Luca d'Italia. Part one of my chat with Pritchett ran in this space yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: I just had an amazing meal at Red Medicine in Los Angeles. It's heavily Asian, with a modern American slant and pure, clean flavors coupled with beautiful foraged produce elevated by great high-acid wines. The heirloom rice porridge with Santa Barbara uni, duck-fat-poached egg yolk and wild broccoli about knocked me out of my seat.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Chef Wayne and his crew at Sushi Sasa always do it right for me. In fact, I'm convinced that they're trying to turn me into a sea urchin.
Last restaurant you visited: Dong Khan Saigon Bowl, aka "The Dong."
Which chef in Denver/Boulder do you most respect? Frank Bonanno. The man never stops, he kicks ass on the line, he's always thinking and always going a million miles an hour, but he still manages to have a wonderful, normal life. I'll always be grateful for the chances he's given me and the faith he's shown in me.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: More late-night dining options that don't suck. Thankfully, Denver is becoming less of a 9-to-5 town, and don't get me wrong: I love late-night tacos and burgers, but sometimes I just feel like getting a meal with some green vegetables that won't give me a food hangover the next day. Some places are trying, but it's always easier to throw some shit in the fryer than to do something with a little bit of skill and imagination, and I think a lot of the late-night options fall victim to that.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: More knowledge and demand for quality. There are only so many great restaurants in Denver that do excellent dishes while maintaining the highest standards of quality. But there are hundreds of mediocre places that sling slop to anyone they can scam into coming in. This is a highly educated and well-informed community that shouldn't have to settle for mediocrity. I'm not demanding that people come in and do the seven-course tasting at Luca every night, but don't wait for three hours in the drive-thru at Steak 'n Shake to eat shit. The Denver dining scene is oversaturated with mediocre, uncreative, copycat restaurants, and the proliferation of mediocrity and the lessening of the standard have flattened the culinary landscape here. It needs more peaks.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: It's always comforting to have native Italians eat at Luca, stick their heads into the kitchen and tell us that the food really reminds them of home or times past. My food is contemporary Italian, with tons of creative licensing, and it's always mind-blowing to hit those neural pathways in people whom I've never met before.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? At my first company holiday party, Frank Bonanno gave the kitchen crew Japanese single-sided knives. They were razor-sharp, brand-new and a helluva gift for a crowd of drunk cooks. My outlook on knives and knifework totally changed after that. I had always struggled with big, clunky German Wüsthofs, and that fine Japanese blade, which is relatively easy to maintain, made me a better chef.