Randy Balch, chef of Wazee Supper Club, on the new remodel, frying bacon naked and why Wazee has the best pizza in town
This is part one of my interview with Randy Balch, chef of Wazee Supper Club, which will reopen Friday following a remodel. Part two of our chat will run in this space tomorrow.
Before waltzing through the door of the Wazee Supper Club eight years ago, fresh off a stint in the pokey for dabbling in drugs, Randy Balch had never tossed dough or baked a pizza. But he'd flipped plenty of flapjacks, and in the kitchen, he had the speed of a Ferrari. "I didn't know I was interesting in cooking until I went from a dishwasher straight to the line at the International House of Pancakes after the graveyard shift walked out," he remembers. "The manager asked me if I wanted to cook, and the next thing I knew, that's exactly what I was doing. My obsession with food wasn't food itself, but the speed with which I could put food on the table. I'm fast -- very fast -- and I have a lot of coordination and I can cook...not like one of those chefs in a fancy restaurant, but I'm damn good at cooking food that tastes good, food that people want."
Originally from Corning, New York, Balch spent his youth traveling around the country in a converted school bus. "My dad was a military guy and a carpenter, and every four years or so, he'd buy another school bus, turn it into a traveling RV and off we'd go," he recalls, admitting that he was just along for the ride. "I had to go, but I was always in trouble, and I finally dropped out of school in the ninth grade with no real direction in my life, but I liked the restaurant lifestyle -- I liked to party -- and I've been working in restaurants, or cooking in jail, for most of my life."
Between what he calls "jail tours," he worked at several long-gone restaurants, including Cafe Potpourri, commanding all three of the restaurant's local outlets; he also baked bread at Fratelli's, an Italian restaurant in Englewood; worked the line at the Copper Kitchen in Longmont and the Colorado Cafe in Denver; and slung breakfasts as a short-order cook at Denny's. "I've worked all over town, but the drugs...my memory sucks," he confesses.
But he recalls, vividly, finally getting his GED while bunking in the slammer: "That was a good day," he says. And he remembers, too, his first meeting with the Wazee's then-GM in 2006. "I was living in a halfway house, and they told me to get my ass out there and get a full-time, so I hit the pavement and walked into the Wazee Supper Club, which I'd never heard of, but I told the GM my story, and I guess she felt sorry for me, because she hired me as a line cook two nights a week," he recalls.