Round two with Ed Kammerer, exec chef of Highland Pacific
Part one of my interview with Ed Kammerer, exec chef-owner of Highland Pacific Restaurant & Oyster Bar, ran yesterday; this is part two of our chat.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: We used to have all kinds of rules about what you should have on your station and what you should bring to work, like your own knives, but I've found that as I hire better people and fire those without common sense and general respect for others, the fewer rules I have to make. Experienced cooks know the rules -- although in today's world, there is one thing that has to be addressed constantly: cell phones. I'm not sure when being in constant communication with people you're not in the immediate room with became part of the Bill of Rights, but it's constantly addressed in my kitchen as a privilege that can be revoked at any time. I try to be respectful to responsible adults who get their job done, and I use the phone as a positive tool to gain knowledge when we have a question, or need to find something or get in touch with another employee. But if cell-phone use is abused, the privilege is revoked.
What's never in your kitchen? Waste. We waste very little and we're very efficient with our ordering. I have to give credit to my chef manager, Andy Exell, because he's ruthless when it comes to organization and ordering. We feed our kitchen staff like family, and they respect our products because of it. The only food that gets thrown away from Highland Pacific is the food that doesn't get finished on customer's plates. We're very proud of this.
What's always in your kitchen? I always have some background music on in the kitchen. Music is a big part of my life and helps me put myself in a creative state. Sure, when it's busy, it has to be quiet so we can communicate, but there are also times when we crank it up to release stress and get through the end of the night. It changes from John Coltrane to Rage Against the Machine pretty quickly in our kitchen.
Favorite restaurant in America: The French Laundry. Thomas Keller could be the most important chef currently working in our industry. I ate the best meal of my life there, and I've worked alongside a few chefs that have come from his kitchen. I've also read all of his books and continue to be impressed by his techniques, as well as his ability to not let his success go to his head. His ability to embrace classic techniques as well as push the envelope of creativity simply amazes me.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I don't get to eat out as much as I'd like, but when I do, my wife, Yvette, and I go to Sushi Sasa. I think that chef Wayne does a really great job with product. The restaurant is classy and elegant without being presumptuous and trendy, I always have good food when I'm there, and the waitstaff is well trained, professional and knowledgeable. While there are some other really good sushi restaurants in town, Sushi Sasa does the best job of keeping its focus on the food and service without getting too trendy and caught up in the hype. It's exactly what I expect from a chef-owned restaurant.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: I go to a small, family-owned restaurant in north Denver called La Cocinita. It's a place where you can absolutely stuff yourself with better-than-average Mexican food for under $10. The same family members are always there, and the food is consistent. Eat in, though, because the food just doesn't travel well on the go.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: More events where chefs get together and cook individual courses for a captive audience. Years ago we tried to do a progressive dinner in our neighborhood, where customers could walk between a few different restaurants and have a course at each one. It was a great idea, but it never really took off. Still, I'd like to see it happen on a larger scale. Imagine twenty people cruising around Denver in a big bus with cocktails and eating a different course at multiple restaurants. I'd love to see something like that take place.