Drew Archer, chef of TAG Burger Bar, on pointing fingers, Ruffles and bacon
TAG Burger Bar
1222 Madison Street
This is part one of my chef interview with Drew Archer, from TAG Burger Bar. Tune in tomorrow for part two of my interview with Archer.
The first thing that emerges from the kitchen is a heap of french fries: crisp, speckled with salt and far too hard to resist. Then comes a lamb burger paved with Cheez Whiz, followed by macaroni and cheese, requisitely creamy with Velveeta (Oh, stop -- Velveeta has its place!) and crowned with schoolbus-yellow Goldfish. TAG Burger Bar, it should be noted, is not for food snobs, and its chef de cuisine, Drew Archer, is not a culinary highbrow who snubs his nose at Velveeta.
- Round two with Drew Archer: "If salt is flavor, then acid is life"
- They may not be French, but TAG Burger Bar's duck-fat fries are definitely decadent
- Noah French, pastry chef at TAG, talks about his new bakery venture with Troy Guard
Archer grew up in Tulsa, and while his mom cooked a family dinner Sunday through Friday -- attendance was mandatory -- he appreciated it for what it was: simple, honest and nurturing. He was interested in cooking, but was busy playing competitive tennis. "I played tennis from sunrise to sundown, but at night, my mom and I would watch the original Iron Chef on the Food Network together -- I was probably around ten -- and I became fascinated with food and obsessed with the show," he recalls. "There was something about the voiceovers -- they were entertaining and comedic. And at the time, the chefs were using a lot of live ingredients -- eels, sea urchins, fish -- and while I thought it was a little bizarre, I also thought it was really cool."
In fact, when he was on the road playing tournaments, he'd relax at night by watching the Food Network in his hotel room. And somewhere along the line, he came to the conclusion that the tennis court wasn't his true crush; cooking was. After attending college in Oklahoma and New Mexico -- and eventually graduating with a degree in hotel and restaurant administration from Oklahoma State -- he got his first job as a dishwasher in a restaurant that, coincidentally, was known for its burgers. "I knew I wanted to work in restaurants, and after I'd put in time washing dishes, they put me on the line," recalls Archer, who soon left dish duty altogether: "I moved through all of the stations and ended up being the lead line cook by the time I'd left."
He soon got another taste of cooking during a seasonal culinary internship at the Baldpate Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Estes Park, where he met a Rocky Mountain girl. After his internship ended, he went back to Oklahoma, grabbed his stuff, hopped in a U-Haul, moved to Denver, and hit the pavement in search of a job. He dropped off a resumé at Restaurant Kevin Taylor, but was told there were no available positions. Four hours later, he got a phone call alerting him that a line cook had just walked out of Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House; the kitchen was in need of a fish cook. Archer bit, splitting his time between that kitchen and the restaurant Kevin Taylor was running at the Teller House in Central City. Personnel changes persuaded him to seek a new gig, and the Teller House chef, who was taking off for Miami, suggested that Archer chase a job at TAG, Troy Guard's Asian-fusion restaurant in Larimer Square. "I went in, gave them my resumé, got a call from Troy and did two stages," recalls Archer, who was offered the day-pantry job. Six months later, he'd moved his way up to sauté. Not long after, he became the lead line cook at lunch. He stayed at TAG for a year and a half, until Guard rebranded one of his other restaurants -- Madison Street -- as TAG Burger Bar. "Troy offered me the head-chef job at TAG Burger Bar, and it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up," he says. "This job is not just about cooking, but about labor, food costs and administrative stuff, which I hadn't been able to learn as a line cook, so this has been a great crash course, and Troy has a lot of faith and trust in me, plus he's very good about letting people find their groove."
In the following interview, Archer raps on Denver Restaurant Week, explains why it's tough to swallow social-networking reviews, and admits that the Food Network gave him a false sense of security about lobsters.