Chef Mark Fischer on treating knives badly, pussies and unicorns
But he also went to cook. "I knocked on a few doors, hit the pavement and ended up getting a job at the Caribou Club as the sous chef," says Fischer, who eventually climbed the ranks to the exec-chef position. "It was a pretty bizarre experience," he recollects. "You were there to cook for members, and no request was ever too outrageous." But what Fischer remembers most fondly is the off-seasons, when the Caribou Club's owner would send its kitchen staff to stage at restaurants around the country. "It was pretty awesome," notes Fischer, who did time at Le Cirque and Mesa Grill in New York, Stars in San Francisco, and Table 29 in Napa, where "there was a ton of cool shit growing right outside our back door."
Fischer eventually left the Caribou Club, he explains, to "validate myself by cooking in a bigger city." And, as it turned out, in a much -- much -- larger restaurant. He was hired as the exec chef of the renowned Fog City Diner in San Francisco, where, he says, he was doing 600 to 700 covers a night, as opposed to eighty at the Caribou Club. "The learning curve was dramatic, but I was ambitious and motivated, and I learned more than I could have ever imagined," says Fischer.
Within just a month, though, he realized he wasn't a "city boy." His wife was living in Carbondale at the time, where she and Fischer had a house, so he packed up and scooted back to Colorado. "Spending time in San Francisco was great for my career, but the place you call home -- that was more important to me," Fischer says.
And after settling in, he was moseying down Main Street one afternoon and spotted a "For Rent" sign on a vacant bed-and-breakfast. He signed a lease and opened Six89 in 1998, which was followed by Phat Thai in 2003, and a second Phat Thai, in Denver, last year. And the rest, he says, "is history."
In the following interview, Fischer explains what happens to his knives on a bad kitchen day, claims that Americans are "pussies" compared to other cultures, and rolls out the red carpet for Julia Child.
Six words to describe your food: Simple, complex, subtle, loud, local and thoughtful.
Ten words to describe you: Driven, lucky, persistent, grateful, obsessive, peripatetic, simple, impatient, hungry and flawed.
What are your ingredient obsessions? Of late, bourbon barrel-aged fish sauce, fresh rice noodles, ramps, pork skin, eggs from our chickens, yuzu koshi, fava leaves, goat, pak bung and duck fat, though not necessarily on the same plate or even in the same kitchen.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? One good knife. This one obsession has driven me to purchase hundreds of knives of all ilks -- and I truly treat them badly. While I always stress that taking care of your shit and treating equipment well is paramount, I drop, bend, mutilate -- you name it -- more good knives than I'd ever care to recall. It's always a sad day when another knife is relegated to the "wine box." And then there's the "suspicion" element. I've convinced myself that if a particular bad day in the kitchen is due to a particular knife (like baseball players and their bats), that knife also gets relegated to "the box."