Round two with Jay Leandro, chef at Pub 17 on Welton Street
Part one of my interview with Jay Leandro, exec chef of Pub 17 on Welton Street, ran yesterday; this is part two of our conversation.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Pho Fusion on Hampden. I used to get their pad Thai three or four times a week when I was in school, mostly because it was so different than any other pad Thai I'd eaten up until that point. It's served with celery, green onions, bean sprouts, cilantro and peanuts, and the sauce is neither too sweet nor too sour -- just a great balance. I've come close to re-creating it, but I just can't quite get it right.
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Favorite cheap eat in Denver: On a day off, I love eating from the lunch buffet at Little India. I think it's only $9, and you can't beat it for the quality and quantity of Indian food.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I'd like to see more independently owned restaurants in the suburbs. I live in Highlands Ranch -- we're building a family and it's inexpensive -- and there's definitely a gap when it comes to good restaurants that are chef-run.
Favorite food city in America: I think it has to be Denver. It's nice that the food scene hasn't hit the level of pretense found in other cities. People can just cook without too much scrutiny.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: I was twenty years old and visiting my older brother Marc -- he's also a chef -- in San Francisco, and we took the BART over to Berkeley and had dinner at Chez Panisse. The starter was Hog Island oyster chowder -- just the essence of chowder with three oysters shucked into the hot broth; the entree was grilled duck breast with fava beans and Marsala sauce; and dessert was a chocolate soufflé with a side of hot hazelnut cream to pour into the soufflé. It was a dinner that made me realize how often chefs overthink things, myself included, and that the basis of a great meal is simply using great products. It was such a simple menu, yet it didn't taste simple, and all the components were executed flawlessly.
Favorite childhood food memory: My uncle Jack was a commercial fisherman, so he always had the freshest fish, crabs and lobsters. One day he invited my dad and me over to his house for a crab boil, and we all sat around this huge pot of steaming Jonah crab just taking in all the great smells. It was an amazing meal, but also my first experience with spicy food. My uncle told me, "Jay, you just need to embrace the heat." So I did -- and it was hot, but for the first time in my life I could actually taste the food behind the heat. I've had a love affair with spicy food ever since.
Favorite junk food: My weirdest/favorite junk food would have to be hot-chocolate mix straight out of the can, chased by a gulp of cold milk. This is only consumed at night when no one is around to judge me.