Drew Hardin, exec chef of Lola, on cooks who don't have passion
This is part one of my interview with Drew Hardin, exec chef of Lola; part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
Drew Hardin grew up watching Julia and Jacques, sometimes begrudgingly, but when dinnertime came around, he appreciated the fact that his mother would often force him to turn off cartoons and divert his attention to French cooking techniques. "We always had family dinners, usually every night of the week," remembers Hardin, "and my mom loved to cook -- she was very good at it -- and she'd make us dinner using Jacque and Julia's recipes, so we always ate really well."
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And while Hardin, the new exec chef at Lola, hadn't mastered much beyond eggs by the time he got his first cooking gig -- at a local Einstein Bagels, when he was fifteen -- he realized after proofing a few thousand bagels that cooking came naturally to him. "It was the easiest job ever, and I was good at it," he recalls, "and a few weeks after I started, I was promoted to sandwich maker, and I was pretty good at that, too."
He worked there through high school, then went to Fort Lewis College to study zoology. But going to class, he says, "was way too damn hard" in Durango, a playground of skiing and fishing, so instead of immersing himself in textbooks, he soaked up the diversions. "I didn't get invited back to college," he quips, but he did return to the kitchen, cooking on the line in two restaurants to make ends meet. After two years living the high life, though, he made the decision to leave town. "I knew that I needed to do something with my life at some point," he explains, "and it wasn't going to happen in Durango, because I was having way too much fun."
He had a good time at culinary school, too, which is where he ended up, enrolling in the cooking curriculum at the Art Institute of Colorado and working at the Palace Arms during his days away from the classroom. "I thought I could make a career out of cooking, and while I'm still paying for that education, it was the right decision," says Hardin, who went on to spend nearly six years in the galley at Vesta Dipping Grill, following that stint with kitchen jobs at Steuben's, Elway's Cherry Creek, Deluxe and Root Down.