Matt Lewis, exec chef of Bones, on pop-ups, burgers and women
Justifiably dejected but equally determined, Lewis touched down at Row 14, where he cooked alongside Arik Markus, Row 14's opening chef. And when Markus was abruptly let go, Lewis suddenly found himself in charge of the crash and din. "I spent about 24 days as the interim chef," he says, until Jensen Cummings, who had just departed the kitchen at TAG, was hired as the exec, and he and Cummings couldn't agree on a salary. "We hashed it out for over an hour, and we couldn't come to terms on money, so I wished him luck and left."
And that's when he joined Bonanno's empire of restaurants. "I staged for six weeks at Osteria Marco, went over to Russell's Smokehouse for a while, and then Frank called me one day and asked me if I wanted to be the exec chef at Bones," recounts Lewis, who took the job in June and says it's the "most fun I've had cooking in a really long time." And Bonanno, he insists, is one helluva chief. "Frank is beyond awesome. His staff is his family, and working for him -- and at Bones -- is one of the best opportunities I've had since moving to Denver."
In the following interview, Lewis has a few other things to say about cooking in the Mile High City, including a plea for more pop-up restaurants, fewer burger joints and service that forgoes pretense.
Six words to describe your food: Clean, tasteful, approachable, quick, innovative and enticing.
Ten words to describe you: Laid-back, hardworking, opinionated, resourceful, fun-loving, demanding, stubborn, dedicated, passionate and a teacher.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? Japanese knives with a traditional handle. They're so shiny, ridiculously sharp and thin, and since they're usually light, there's less fatigue involved when you're using them. I also like my "LBTs" -- aka my "little bitch tongs," which allow me to be very precise with my plating. It's important to have tools that allow you to handle ingredients -- fish, for example -- really delicately.
What are your ingredient obsessions? It changes all the time, but I really like ingredients that give food umami -- that fifth taste -- like hoisin sauce and soy, both of which give just an instant savory tone to a dish. I also love acid, so I really like cooking with ponzu, and I'll always be obsessed with sriracha, because it's spicy and delicious.
Most underrated ingredient: Citric acid gives a dish acid without bogging it down. Take, for example, fried Brussels sprouts. If I just squeezed lemon juice on them, they'd be soggy before getting to the table, but with citric acid powder, the Brussels sprouts keep their crispy texture and they're not a soggy mess.