Paul Nagan, exec chef of Zink Kitchen + Bar, reveals his top ten pet peeves
"I love the conceptualization and total menu control that I have -- I've got a ton of creative freedom -- and it really is like working in an independent restaurant, because I get to create without a lot of constrictions," he says. "A lot of hotel restaurants get a bad rap for good reason, but there's no reason why hotel restaurants shouldn't be as good as an independent. We have the same equipment and the resources, and here we treat it like a 'street' restaurant -- meaning that it's our own entity. I think we're a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered. No one expects this good of a restaurant in a Doubletree, but everything here is made from scratch. We put out really good food, and we come up with a lot of really creative dishes."
In the following interview, Nagan reveals his top-ten list of pet peeves, exposes the culinary attributes of one of Colorado's prisons, and divulges the biggest mistake a chef can make on the line.
How do you describe your food? Eclectic, familiar, unique, classic, playful, fresh, global, local, seasonal and deliberate.
Ten words to describe you: Humble, sarcastic, honest, driven, funny, serious, creative, stubborn, passionate and temperamental. It all really depends on the day and how well you know me.
What are your ingredient obsessions? They change quite a bit. I try to experiment with a few new ingredients -- or something I haven't used in a while -- every time I do a new menu. I've recently been incorporating a lot of superfoods -- kale, quinoa, beets, Brussels sprouts, citrus, heirloom carrots -- into my cooking. I wasn't sure how well kale salad and Brussels sprouts would go over, but they've been some of our biggest sellers. As Heather Holt, our restaurant manager, says: "We're changing lives one Brussels sprout at a time."
What are your kitchen-gadget obsessions? His name is Marcos, although I call him the "Dice-o-Matic/Peeler 2000." To be honest, I used to hate peeling and dicing my own vegetables until I got ahold of this Marcos 2000 -- and now it's a breeze. Just kidding...sort of. I'm actually more into equipment than gadgets. We recently purchased a Vollrath meat grinder and an LEM sausage stuffer. Making sausage is fun, and there's always an endless supply of jokes that go along with it.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: I really like the Buena Vista CCI trout. Colorado Correctional Industries funds and operates a 6,000-acre organic farm just outside Cañon City; they have a fishery, goat dairy, greenhouses, vineyards, orchards and a honey operation. It's become a model for prison systems around the world to create job training and self-improvement opportunities for the inmates, which I think is a great idea and a great story. I just wish more of their products were easily available. The trout are fed all-natural diets and raised in low-density ponds, and they really have the taste and texture of wild-caught trout. They're definitely the best freshwater fish I've had in Colorado.