Joe Freemond, exec chef of the Cellar Wine Bar, on fresh blood and Denver in a nutshell
Raw fish. That's what Joe Freemond gravitated toward when he was a kid. Not burgers, definitely not pizza, and certainly not hot dogs. And if you gave him a kids' menu, he'd raise his eyebrows in disgust. "When I was five, my favorite restaurant was Sushi Den -- I loved it -- and my whole thing was trying new things, and I was always offended when a waiter would try to give me a kids' menu," recalls Freemond, the executive chef of Cellar Wine Bar. "I was the kind of kid who would order a dish on the menu for no other reason than I didn't know what the hell it was, and I can't remember any vacation that I've taken that didn't revolve around dinner reservations."
He was also the kind of college student at the University of Kansas who shunned the school cafeteria in favor of making his own food -- for both himself and his friends, who would show up morning, noon and night to get their fix. "I had the most stocked room of anyone in the dorm," remembers Freemond. "I had the fridge stashed with lox and bagels, everything to make sandwiches and nothing microwaveable. Everyone would come to my room to eat." He admits, too, that "a guy who was a good cook could usually do pretty well with the ladies."
His first job on the line was "rocking out sandwiches" at a now-defunct panini shop in Cherry Creek during a college summer break, and from there he never looked back, working as a meat cutter and fishmonger at a mercantile in Lawrence, Kansas, and as a dishwasher, prep cook and line cook at the Eldridge, a posh hotel, also in Lawrence.
After he graduated and moved to Denver, he hooked up with Mark DeNittis, the salumi sultan behind Il Mondo Vecchio, whom Freemond has worked with on and off since 2009. "We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend, and when I came back to Denver, I called Mark to ask his opinion about culinary school, so we went out to dinner to talk about it, and six martinis into the conversation, Mark asked me if I wanted to make sausage, and I was at the Il Mondo plant the next morning at 5:30 a.m.," he recalls. "It was a blast." By the end of his tenure with DeNittis, he had become the sales director.
Along the way, Freemond also worked at TAG, Troy Guard's Asian-fusion restaurant in Larimer Square. "I did a three-day stage at TAG, got a job doing a.m. prep shifts for the first three or four months and was then given free creative rein with pastas that we'd run as specials before I started cooking on the line at night," he says. "TAG kicked my ass -- every day was a marathon -- and while working for Troy wasn't easy, I wouldn't trade it for the world."