Round two with Duncan Smith, exec chef of Dazzle
What are your biggest pet peeves? Tardiness. I put a lot of effort into planning the day's production, and when an employee is late, it jeopardizes the flow. No-call, no-shows are also at the top of that list. I like to have a plan, and when I have to deviate from that plan to cover someone who didn't show up for a shift, it makes me angry. And just like the Incredible Hulk, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Matt Selby's, at Vesta Dipping Grill. I think Matt has done some great things with the Vesta concept, and he's just one of those names that comes up more often than not when you talk about good food in Denver. On a national-celebrity level, I'd like to work in one of chef Gordon Ramsay's restaurants, just for the opportunity to see if he's really that big of an asshole. I'm always amused by his shows, and I'd love to see his persona when the cameras aren't on. That would be interesting.
Culinary heroes: My dad; my mom; my grandmas; Patty Heisler, my old babysitter; and my kitchen staff. I don't spend much time making heroes out of celebrity chefs. I could go on and on about all of the great chefs throughout the world, but to be an actual hero of mine takes more of a personal connection.
Favorite celebrity chef: Jacques Pépin. I find most celebrity chefs to be fake and insincere, but Jacques always makes cooking look so tranquil and fun, and let's not forget the man makes classical techniques look quite simple. While surfing through the TV channels, stumbling across a Jacques Pépin cooking cooking show is like stumbling across a Bob Ross painting show. I'm just extremely mesmerized and unable to turn the channel.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Emeril Lagasse. I respect the man for what he's done for cooking on television, but I'm completely done with him. I saw him on one of the morning news programs, and he just came off as being more interested in selling his line of merchandise than actually creating and being innovative with food.
What's your best piece of advice to culinary-school grads? Graduate with some enthusiasm. Nobody is going to make sure you have your homework done, so it's up to you whether or not you excel. Culinary degrees are a great asset to have, but that fancy piece of paper means nothing if you don't prove yourself. It's simply a building block.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: When my older sister was in town, we came to Dazzle for dinner and a show, and we heard a lady at the table next to us tell the server to let the chef know how wonderful her food was. The server looked at the lady and said, "Actually, you can tell him yourself, because he's sitting right there." I guess it was just one of those unexpected moments that throws you for a curve.
Most humbling moment as a chef: The restaurant owner's family came in for dinner one night, and one of the guests in the party received a lovely piece of glass in her salad. It was one of those freak accidents, but you think to yourself, "Great, it's the owner's family; how do you explain that?" I've never felt so sick to my stomach. I wanted to shrivel up and die. It was a definite lesson learned, and easily the most humbling experience of my career.