Paul Nagan, exec chef of Zink Kitchen + Bar, reveals his top ten pet peeves
This is part one of my interview with Paul Nagan, exec chef of Zink Kitchen + Bar; part two of our interview will run tomorrow.
I was always interested in cooking," says Paul Nagan. "My grandparents were really great cooks, and every time we ate at their house, it was like a mini-banquet, and my grandfather taught me how to grill when I was super-young." Cooking, he declares, "has always been in my blood."
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But Nagan, the 42-year-old executive chef of Zink Kitchen + Bar, didn't start cooking professionally until he'd graduated from Cornell College in Iowa with a business and economics degree -- a degree that led him straight into a kitchen. "The economy wasn't great when I graduated and I couldn't find a job, but I knew that I loved to cook, so I decided that's what I'd do -- that was my passion," he says.
He moved to Steamboat Springs -- an ex-girlfriend lured him there -- and got a gig at the Sheraton Hotel as a prep cook for the summer. After that, he returned to Iowa and another hotel cooking job for two years before coming back to Colorado to attend Johnson & Wales and work at the Vail Marriott Resort, where he stayed for nearly five years as the sous chef. He eventually departed, he explains, "because Vail was a frat party that I needed to get away from."
He packed up and headed for Portland, undeterred by a series of interviews that always led to one question: "How do you feel about the rain?" Turns out he hated both the weather and the job, as an exec banquet chef at another Marriott. "I loved the food scene in Portland, and it's an awesome city," he says. "But I didn't like my job, and after nearly ten months of straight drizzle, I couldn't take it anymore."
He came back to sunny Colorado and landed on the line at the Denver Renaissance Hotel, a Marriott franchise, where he wielded his knives for nearly six years as the executive chef. And then he moved again, this time to San Francisco, then San Diego, doing time in both cities in hotel kitchens. Finally, he returned to Denver in 2007 -- for good, he says; "I like it here, and I plan to stay" -- and secured the exec-chef gig at Zink, which is attached to the Doubletree Hotel in Greenwood Village. And it's a job, Nagan insists, that fuels his obsession. "I've always been fortunate in that I've never had to work in a cookie-cutter crappy hotel restaurant, and this one is no different," he says, noting that it's similar to working on the line of an independent restaurant.