Round two with Paul Nagan, exec chef of Zink Kitchen + Bar
This is part two of my interview with Paul Nagan, exec chef of Zink Kitchen + Bar; part one of our interview ran yesterday.
Favorite dish on your menu: I like our housemade lamb sausage. We grind Colorado lamb and mix it with a merguez spice blend, and we plate it with eggplant caponata, saffron aioli and Jumpin' Good feta from Buena Vista. It has great flavor, and it's a good mix of local and global.
Biggest menu bomb: Version one: I'm more into F-bombs and Jäger bombs than menu bombs. Version two: This summer we put Mexican paletas -- fresh-frozen fruit popsicles -- on the dessert menu. One flavor was mango and ancho chile, and the other was raspberry and coconut. It seemed like a refreshing, healthy summer treat, but nobody wanted them -- I mean nobody. I think we sold two orders total.
One food you detest: A while back, someone brought balut into the kitchen. It's a fertilized duck egg that's hard-boiled, except that there's actually a baby duck with feathers and a beak inside the egg. This was the first time I'd ever seen it, so I'm not sure if this one was still good. The smell was off, and when we cut into it, a bunch of brown liquid poured out. A couple of people tried it, but no one could keep it down. No thanks...I'll pass.
One food you can't live without: Chiles. I'm not a heat freak, and I don't like to stop and wipe my forehead after every bite, but I do like a little kick. Chipotles, poblanos and Hatch chiles are my favorite; they can be bold or subtle, smoky and savory, tart or sweet. I just love their flavors and versatility.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: There are two experiences that influenced me significantly. In the mid-'90s, a couple of my roommates and I -- we were all cooks -- took a two-week road trip all over the western United States. We spent a few days in Napa and San Francisco, and I was blown away by the amount of local products: All of the fruits, vegetables, seafood, cheeses, oils and vinegars were amazing and ingredients that were simply not available outside of that specific area. It was farm-to-table before it was cool, and it was an eye-opening moment on how fresh and simple great food can be. The other one occurred just after moving to Portland in the late '90s. There was a restaurant in my neighborhood called Wildwood that everyone was talking about -- it grabbed your attention as soon as you walked in. There was a raw bar serving shellfish and sashimi, and the line was completely exposed, with a counter and stools running the length of it. But it wasn't your typical line. It had a tandoori oven where the cooks were making fresh naan and roasting meat and seafood on giant metal skewers; they had a wood-burning grill; and they had a plancha and other equipment that wasn't standard-issue at the time. The ingredients were seasonal and sourced locally, and they were creating refined dishes with cultural influences from around the world. It really redefined the boundaries of a restaurant for me.