Ignacio Leon, exec chef of Paxia and Los Carboncitos, on the wild rabbit, helping the homeless and Mexican food
One food you detest: Hamburgers from fast-food restaurants. They're greasy, full of empty calories and absent of nutrition. You'll never catch me eating a hamburger from McDonald's, Wendy's or any other fast-food burger chain with inferior products.
One food you can't live without: Japanese food. My first real job out of cooking school was at a five-star Japanese restaurant in Mexico City, called Daikoku. It's a very traditional restaurant that was really embraced by Japanese diners for its authenticity. It was there that I developed a real appreciation for the cuisine. I also learned a variety of techniques, from how to cook on the hibachi to the fine art of making sushi. I love sushi, and I love how healthy and fresh Japanese food is in general.
Best food trend of the year: Fresh food. I love the fact that it's no longer acceptable in quality restaurants to serve something out of a can. I was raised eating the food we grew on our farm, so the whole farm-to-fork concept really resonates with me. It's healthier, and the flavors are better when food is fresh. My hope is that this becomes the standard way we eat all the time.
Worst food trend of the year: Mexican fast food. I know Taco Bell and a few others places like it have been around forever, but it seems like there's an abundance of bad Mexican-food chains right now. I don't mind Chipotle, because you know where their food comes from and they have an open kitchen so you can see the process, but I won't support the fast-food Mexican-food restaurants that serve canned chile or cheddar cheese that's full of preservatives instead of Mexican cheese. You won't find any of those mass-produced hard taco shells in Mexico, either, and the meat they serve in these places isn't even real meat; it's the same thing McDonald's serves. That is not real Mexican food.
Favorite dish on your menu: Our molcajetes, which are basically stews made of tomatoes, garlic, jalapeños, onions and a choice of meat, seafood or a combination of both. We serve it in a "molcajete," which is a traditional mortar and pestle made of volcanic rock. It's authentic, unique and different from what Denverites have been exposed to.
Biggest menu bomb: Fresh oysters. We brought them in every other day to ensure freshness, and it was tough for us because they weren't selling well, so we would end up eating them ourselves or just throwing them away. Oysters are high-maintenance, and some people are afraid to eat them because they think they're unsafe or they just don't have a taste for them. We eventually took them off the menu after two months.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: Before I attended cooking school, I did some traveling, and on one trip, while I was passing through a small town in Mexico, I got hungry and began looking for a place to eat. I met a woman who offered to cook me a meal at her home, which isn't uncommon in Mexico -- there are women in these smaller towns that just cook meals out of their homes for money. It's kind of like pop-up restaurants inside these private homes, which is possible in Mexico because they don't have the same kind of licensing restrictions we do here. She killed and cooked a wild rabbit for me on a spit over a wood fire, and she served it with a fresh salsa de molcajete and homemade corn tortillas. I was just amazed by the taste, the flavors and the whole meal. This housewife, who never went to cooking school -- who didn't have a degree -- made a meal for me that no one has ever matched.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A sushi knife...and then I lost it. The owner of Daikoku, a Japanese restaurant in Mexico City, gave it to me, and I'm sure that's where my appreciation for knives started.