Joe Freemond, exec chef of the Cellar Wine Bar, on fresh blood and Denver in a nutshell
And he voices the same sentiment for Samir Mohammad, the exec chef of the Village Cork, where Freemond also did time behind the burners. "I loved cooking with Samir," he says. "He taught me how to put food out that no one would expect from a kitchen that has nothing more than a convection oven and butane burners."
But like most chefs, Freemond wanted a kitchen to call his own, and while he continued to split his time between the Village Cork and Il Mondo Vecchio, the allure of running his own place was never far from his mind, and in March he was given the opportunity. The timing couldn't have been better. "Brian Delgado, who owns Cellar Wine Bar, came in to Il Mondo Vecchio and asked Mark for help on consulting on the menu, but he didn't have the time, so he recommended me," recalls Freemond, whose job at Il Mondo Vecchio was being phased out. "I came in as a consultant, pitched Brian that I could be the chef and do a scratch menu, and he said go for it, and so far it's going really, really well." His kitchen line includes John Wallace, who's the day saucier at Vesta Dipping Grill, and Will Sumner, who used to cook at TAG. "It's a really talented crew," he says.
In the following interview, Freemond reveals what he expects from his boys, all of whom work in tight, tight quarters, as well as his thoughts on Guy Fieri and Ritz crackers and why he doesn't give a rat's ass if you disagree with his assessment of Pete's Kitchen, his favorite restaurant in Denver.
Six words to describe your food: Simple, clean, rustic, refined, thoughtful and bold.
Ten words to describe you: Curious, passionate, driven, loyal, honest, optimistic, practical, committed, skinny and hungry.
What are your ingredient obsessions? Fresh herbs of all kinds. I always have tons of fresh herbs growing at home and plenty around to play with in the kitchen. I'm also loving a cheese called tomino da padella that I'm getting from the Truffle. It's a soft-ripened pasteurized cow's-milk cheese that's very similar to Brie, but with a bit more character and funk. They come in little disks the size of hockey pucks, and I'm pan-searing them until they're soft and gooey and then serving them as a dessert course with fresh berries, ciabatta dolce and a thyme-honey syrup.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? I love any type of old-school pasta tool, no matter how obscure or specialized it is. I have a pretty decent collection, but there are still a couple of things I want, including a Torchio hand-crank pasta extruder with bronze cutting dies, and I also really want a Japanese menkiri, which is a soba or udon knife that looks like a huge Chinese cleaver but the blade extends under the handle; they're huge and heavy and designed to cut through many layers of dough to make beautiful hand-cut noodles -- and they look totally diabolical.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Always be on time; show respect for your ingredients, for your customers, for your techniques and recipes and their histories, for your equipment and tools, for your co-workers and for yourself; and work cleanly and efficiently and anticipate and plan for what may lay ahead. This is chess, not checkers.
Best recent food find: I live right on the Denver-Aurora border, and contrary to what many people may think, this is actually a really cool area to live -- at least for a chef. There are tons of ethnic grocers in the area, including H Mart, which is one of my favorite places in the world. My current favorite, though, is a little international/Middle Eastern market called Diyar, a small market stocked with your general array of Middle Eastern goodies. But the real reasons I'm there so frequently are the butcher and the bakery. They have all halal meats, which are fantastic and amazingly cheap. Their halal chicken is fantastic and really moist, and cheaper than anywhere else I know, and the quality has always been great. And the bakery...oh, the bakery. They bake fresh, out-of-this world tandoori bread the size of manhole covers, and if you get there at the right time, they bake it to order. I live about a half-mile from Diyar, and in the time it takes me to get home, I usually devour at least one whole piece of tandoori bread; they're just too good.