Round two with Duncan Smith, exec chef of Dazzle
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Fewer food trucks. When the latest food-truck craze blew up, it seemed like there was a new truck every day. I love the fact that accessible, fast, affordable food is now available via a truck, but I prefer a seat in a building. I don't want to see the trend end completely, but it would be nice to see fewer restaurants on wheels.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Hands down, the barbecue charcoal grill my father passed down to me. It's a simple charbroil grill, but it's my absolute favorite piece of equipment to cook with. The grill is as old as me, if not older, and the cooking grates are heavy, which goes to show they just don't make grills like the used to; all the frills and extras they sell on barbecue grills these days aren't needed. It's one of the simplest forms of cooking, and my grill allows me to do just that: keep it simple. Oh, and please let my boss know that my favorite new gift is the brand-new six-burner he bought for the kitchen. Thanks -- we love them, Donald.
Favorite childhood food memory: Picking through vegetable gardens with my mom. In North Dakota, fall always means full gardens, and fall gardens means lots of produce ripe for the picking. Pulling fresh carrots from the ground and eating them on the spot is one of my fondest memories. I also remember this time of year as canning season. My mother was always canning vegetables and fruits, and the smells of cooking tomatoes and dill pickles were always strong in the house in the fall. She still makes the best salsa around. Thanks, Mom.
Favorite junk food: All things candy. It's always been a weakness of mine. I love sweets, from hard candies to decadent chocolates. I could skip right through dinner for a box of Mike and Ikes.
One book that every chef should read: Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain. I think it just gives people an insider's look at the so-called behind-the-scenes life of a chef. And it's entertaining to read.
Weirdest customer request: I was working at a small cafe years ago, and we had a dish on the menu called a hamburger steak, which was essentially a half-pound burger patty with vegetables and potatoes. A customer requested that I simply put their hamburger steak in the microwave for a quick five seconds. When it came out, it was no more than a pile of cold, raw hamburger, aka tiger meat. The customer ate the entire thing and complimented me on the dish. I'll always remember that as extremely weird.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Canned walleye. It's a little different from most pickled herring and pickled fish varieties you can get at the store. This is a bit oily, has a pronounced fishy taste, and any ladies standing near you won't be around for long. The fish wasn't bad served on simple saltine crackers, but it's definitely weird.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Use recipes as a shopping list rather than a guide (unless you're baking). Once the basic fundamental preparations of a dish are realized, don't get caught up in following the recipe step by step. I think lots of amazing things can happen when you toss a little of your own personality into food preparation. I found that when I first started cooking: I'd pay too much attention to the words in a recipe book rather than concentrating on the actual actions of cooking. Trial and error -- not precisely following recipes -- is the pathway to being a great home cook.