Hunter Pritchett, exec chef of Luca d'Italia, on bum piss and fried fish
He spent another few years working in Vegas restaurants before he packed his knives for Denver in 2008. "I didn't have a job lined up, but when I got here, I staged at Black Pearl, Duo and Z Cuisine before walking into Osteria Marco, who told me to go to Mizuna, who told me to go to Luca -- and now, here I am," says Pritchett, who started, ironically, as a fish cook before moving to the meat station and ultimately becoming Luca's executive chef. "Even though the restaurant is named after Frank's kid, he's the best boss I've ever had, and I love the gratification of cooking, of fulfilling the primal need of feeding people, and I like making people happy, which is why I come to work every day," explains Pritchett, who, in the following interview, compares an intern's peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the Dollar Store, laments Denver's culinary mediocrity and explains why bum piss led to the strangest thing he's ever put in his mouth.
Six words to describe your food: Balanced, definition-bending, contemporary Italian grub.
Ten words to describe you: A bespectacled, hairy, thoughtful, restless, calculated, worldly, unsatisfied man-child.
Favorite ingredient: Age. I was really impatient in my younger years, with no real understanding of how incredible things can taste when ingredients hit their peak of ripeness and freshness, or, in this case, progress to the pinnacle of flavor and texture because of dry-curing, fermenting and aging. Dry-aging and curing changed my outlook on taste and flavor: Start with great product, and let it progress to something amazing. We've dry-aged our steaks for years, but I started dry-aging the ducks at Luca this year -- ten days for the breasts left on the crown -- and the results blew my mind. There's more depth of flavor, better texture, and the stronger-flavored fat just melts in your mouth. It's fucking magic. The entire restaurant fights over the trimmed ends.
Best recent food find: I've been getting finger limes from California for a while now, and you're starting to see them more and more. The fruit cells pop out like caviar -- it's awesome -- and they have a hint of mint to them. The intermezzo on our tasting menu is a finger-lime sorbetto with shaved bottarga di muggine, or salt-cured mullet roe, and parsley. It's a great application and really clears the palate.
Most overrated ingredient: Sous vide this and sous vide that. Sous vide is great in some applications, but it's not the answer to everything. On top of that, it can be extremely dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.
Most underrated ingredient: Salt. Nothing is more important than properly seasoned food, and nothing makes me angrier than under-seasoned food. Properly seasoning and tasting your food shows that you're putting time and care into your product, and if you're not doing that, get out of the kitchen. Every once in a while, I'll get a heads-up that a customer doesn't like seeing me -- or my cooks -- tasting food, and to that I say, be happy that whoever is making your food is making doubly, even triply sure that your dish is as good as it can be.