District Meats exec chef Jeff Russell on food trends, Paula Deen and spring
His exit was the result of a promotion. "I packed a suitcase and moved to Washington, D.C., for the sous position at Charlie Palmer Steak, and I worked my way up to the exec sous chef job," says Russell, who'd wielded his knives there for just over three years when he got the call from Palmer. "His exact words were, 'Do you want to go to Denver?' and my exact words were "Absolutely,'" recounts Russell, who relocated to the Mile High City last year to head the kitchen at District Meats, a restaurant that he admits is still developing.
"This is a new market for us, so we're still tweaking some things, but we really love Denver," he says. And in the following interview, Russell showers lots of love on the local food landscape, though there's no love for Paula Deen, whom Russell calls "evil."
Six words to describe your food: Playful yet grounded, casual yet refined, and progressive with traditional values.
Ten words to describe you: Sharp, hardworking, organized, passionate, focused, driven, energetic, open-minded, patient and good-looking.
What are your ingredient obsessions? Right now, I'm really enjoying the fresh spring produce that I'm seeing, especially ramps, spring garlic, peas, fava beans, morel mushrooms, garlic scapes, apricots, cardoons and cherries. By March, I think most of us chefs are really ready to move away from the winter squashes and root vegetables and rejuvenate ourselves with Colorado's beautiful spring ingredients. Our new seasonal menu showcases a lot of these ingredients in several dishes, including the roasted Petaluma chicken with English peas, escarole, ramps, shaved early carrots and pea tendrils, and our signature chicken-fried sweetbreads with morel mushrooms, asparagus and leeks.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? My prized possession is my twelve-inch Misono chef's knife. I also have an infatuation with immersion blenders, immersion circulators, Japanese mandolines, finesse tongs, offset palate knives, hand juicers, Gray Kunz spoons and my meat grinder. I try to pass these obsessions on to my staff so they can share the same excitement that I do when you've got these kinds of tools at your disposal.
Best recent food find: I haven't really had much free time since I moved to Denver, but I love the food at ChoLon. Chef Lon does a great job showcasing the flavors of Asian cuisine, and I like the modern applications that are put into place. The last time I ate there, I enjoyed the steak tartare with spicy Asian mustard and a crispy sheet of tapioca. I also love the soup dumplings with sweet onions and Gruyère; they're like French onion soup in an Asian disguise.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: I love the sopressata from Il Mondo Vecchio. It's actually featured on our Mulberry Street pizza at Wazee Wood Fire Pizza. Mark DeNittis has tons of talent, and I'm glad to be working in the same culinary playground as him.