Lucky Pie's Joe Troupe on the woman who wanted her feet soaked -- and dried -- at his restaurant
This is part one of my interview with Joe Troupe, exec chef of Lucky Pie Pizza & Tap House. Part two of our chat will run in this space tomorrow.
Unless you count shit on shingles, my mom was not a good cook," says Joe Troupe, grimacing at the childhood recollection. "But lucky for us, my grandparents and my stepdad were excellent cooks, and there was nothing better than cookie days, tamale days, canning days and cabbage-roll days, where the whole family would get together and cook and eat based on whatever the theme of the day was," remembers the chef of Lucky Pie Pizza & Tap House, who grew up on a farm in Mead and spent his summers in Kansas, learning how to drive a tractor, lump bales of hay and "do weird and quirky cooking themes with my family."
His first job outside of his home kitchen was at a Round the Corner, where he helped out his uncle, an assistant manager, and got paid not in cash, but with a trip to the old Elitch Gardens, which was about all Troupe liked about his job. "At the time, working in a restaurant definitely didn't appeal to me," he says. "I didn't like the restaurant lifestyle, which seemed like nothing more than an excuse to party until 4 a.m. every day. And that wasn't my thing."
But the restaurant business has an uncanny way of stalking its prey, and it wasn't long before Troupe was caught doing time on the line at Carrabba's Italian Grill, followed by a stint at a catering company and then at Flatz, the restaurant located inside the Renaissance Boulder Flatiron Hotel in Broomfield, where Troupe was hired as a dish monkey and prep cook, eventually advancing to the grill station. While he was there, he discovered that the restaurant industry was about more -- way more -- than sex, drugs and alcohol binges. "The restaurant was ungodly slow, so we had a ton of time to just dick around with food, and I started to get really invigorated by the prospect of cooking for a living," remembers Troupe, who stayed on for a year before moving to Key West with his girlfriend -- now his wife -- and picking up at a gig at an Outback Steakhouse.
"I was a host one day a week, a server twice a week and a cook twice a week, pretty much making myself amenable to whatever they needed me to do," he recalls. But the heat of a Florida summer, which makes working in a kitchen nearly unbearable, convinced Troupe to return to Denver and Flatz, where he continued to work until one of his line cooks had a harebrained idea. "He was leaving to work at Baby Doe's and convinced me to go with him, which was, in retrospect, the worst idea -- and the worst job -- on the planet," says Troupe, who remembers "trudging around the kitchen in three inches of water and getting rained on, thanks to hoods that had holes and drains that were always clogged." The line cook, he admits, "sold me on all sorts of stuff that he thought would be cutting-edge, but instead I was sloshing through water and scooping beans and rice out of a steam table."