Round two with Pippa Taylor, exec chef of Strings
Favorite childhood food memory: My parents took me to Venice when I was young, and I bravely ordered a bowl of mussels, which I'd never tried, but I wanted to prove how grown up I was. My parents warned me that I might not like them, but moments later, I was up to my elbows in garlicky broth and mussel shells, my face lit up from the meal. I was hooked. Then, when I was eight or so, my parents took me to Ciao Baby!, a restaurant in Denver that's now closed. Noel Cunningham gave me my first tour of a professional kitchen. He treated me like a respected colleague, showing me the pizza oven and letting me make my own Italian soda and dessert. I felt so special, and I've had a special connection to the Cunninghams and Strings ever since.
Favorite junk food: I'll never say no to a big bag of salt-and-vinegar chips, or Velveeta shells and cheese. Don't judge.
Favorite dish on your menu: We just launched our summer menu, and I'm most excited about the pan-seared scallops with popcorn purée, smoked pistachios, mushrooms, leeks and saba. When you try the popcorn that the seared scallops sit on, you can't quite place where the nutty flavor comes from, which is the point: The whole dish comes together in such a beautiful, balanced way.
Biggest menu bomb: I made the mistake of trying to change our really popular huevos rancheros into a breakfast burrito for Sunday brunch. The ingredients were exactly the same -- green chile, potatoes, sausage, eggs, pico de gallo and tomatillo salsa -- but we wrapped them all in a tortilla. The menu was published before we had tried it on our diners, and we had a major backlash. We had so many customers upset by the change -- leaving comment cards and giving our servers a hard time -- that we ended up changing it back to its original incarnation. Lesson learned: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Respect. Be respectful and earn respect. I'm also obsessed with maintaining a clean kitchen. How clean a kitchen is reflects how organized the staff is -- as well as how much they care about their surroundings. Service moves smoother in a clean and orderly kitchen, and it trains cooks to be accountable for themselves and their stations. Cleaning, all the time, no matter how busy you are, is one of the first fundamentals I teach each new kitchen employee.
What's never in your kitchen? Pre-made, frozen or ready-to-eat food. Strings is a scratch-made kitchen, where we make absolutely everything, and I think our diners can taste the difference. We won't use any pre-made stocks, pre-made demi-glace, soup mix, or dressing mix. I won't even let my cooks use bottled sriracha -- we make our own version. Everything we do, we do from square one, so we know the quality is top-notch.