Thomas Salamunovich, exec chef of Larkspur (and Larkburger) on farm-to-table fatigue
Salamunovich exited Postrio for a three-year move to France, but later returned to Puck's restaurant as the executive sous chef before packing his knives and returning to Vail. "My wife and I wanted to start a family, and I'd heard about an executive-chef position at Sweet Basil, where I stayed for six years until I left in 1999 to open Larkspur," says Salamunovich. At 10,500 square feet, Larkspur is the largest independent fine-dining restaurant in Colorado, he notes: "Larkspur is extremely unique, because we do many different things, and that's hard to compete with. We've done buffets for 800 people and, on the same day, a fourteen-course tasting dinner, or a private dinner for thirty with revolving seating after every course."
He introduced the more casual Larkburger in Edwards in 2006, and then went on to open Avondale, an original restaurant concept at the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, in 2008. "It was all mine. I opened it, I created it with a great team, and it was a shining star while it was there," says Salamunovich, who eventually sold the place (it's now Cima, a Richard Sandoval concept). "Avondale required constant attention, and it was a beast with a few hundred employees, and I wanted to focus on other elements of my life."
Elements, he says, that include opening more Larkburgers: An eighth outpost will soon open in Northglenn, followed by another downtown and then one at University Hills. "I have a fine-dining restaurant because I was trained in fine dining, and I have a hamburger restaurant because I'm an American kid who grew up on hamburgers," says Salamunovich, who, in the following interview, gives a shout-out to the "Pussy Posse," tells why he's disenchanted with pig-centric restaurants and explains why he's obsessed with quality and systems.
Six words to describe your food: Thoughtful, approachable, refined, authentic, flavorful and artistically presented.
Ten words to describe you: Evaluative, flawed, motivated, passionate, engaging, intense, striving, compulsive, curious, and did I say flawed?
What are your ingredient obsessions? Everything. Every ingredient has a story and history, and I care as much about ground beef -- hamburgers -- as I do about foie gras, truffles and caviar. I'm obsessed with each ingredient being the best it can possibly be, because it's far easier to make food with quality ingredients -- and try not to screw them up -- than to try and compensate for inferior ingredients. That adds an unnecessary pressure.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? A wood-burning oven and wood-burning grill, Japanese knives, juicer, Vitamix, my Combi oven, perfectly clean and heavy chopping boards and custom stainless steel. I also like our sous-vide machine and thermal circulators, but those are the obvious sexy answers. The day-to-day tools, in perfect working order, are more paramount to producing solid cuisine.
Most underrated ingredient: Water. It's used constantly, and the quality of water that we use dramatically impacts the finished product.