Garren Teich, exec chef of 1515 Restaurant, on molecular gastronomy, line checks and rooftop gardens
This is part one of my interview with Garren Teich, exec chef of 1515 Restaurant; part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
Twenty-seven acres devoted to chickens, goats and vegetables. That's where Garren Teich grew up, in farm country north of Philadelphia, where his dad, a horticulturist, tended to a plant nursery while his mother cooked supper -- and taught her son to do the same. "My mom made dinner every night, and even at nine or ten, she was encouraging me to cook," recalls Teich, today the thirty-year-old executive chef of 1515 Restaurant.
He started with mass batches of applesauce, and even when they didn't work out, he wasn't deterred. "I took an interest in cooking really early on, and even though I made some pretty bad stuff, I've always been obsessed with the creative aspect of cooking," says Teich, who adds that the "reward of being able to eat what you cook -- even when it's bad -- was always fun for me."
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Teich's first job was at a country club not far from where he lived, and while he admits that his culinary skills weren't particularly polished, he dove in fork first, and eventually moved his way up from line cooking to being the chief of Philly cheesesteak night, a Thursday-evening ritual of the elite. "It was honestly the hardest job there," he says. "I'd be slinging twenty cheesesteaks at a time on the flattop. Philadelphians are infatuated with their cheesesteaks."
At the same time, he was attending culinary school at a community college, immersing himself in a three-year program that required 3,000 hours of cooking in professional kitchens. He eventually quit the country-club gig to work at a local bistro, where cheesesteaks were replaced by French and Italian cuisine, with a little Asian tossed in for variety. He stayed for a year, and in 2007, after graduation, he and his girlfriend (now wife) headed for Colorado. "It was either Maine or Colorado, and we decided that Maine looked like a nice place to retire, while Colorado seemed more geared toward a youthful lifestyle," explains Teich.
Once he arrived, he spent a few months exploring Denver and Boulder, and ended up taking a job at Restaurant 4580. "I was still a bit scared of the big city," confesses Teich, "so I spent the first two years of my career here in Boulder, just getting a feel for everything before making the big move to Denver" -- which he did in 2009, landing a line-cook stint at 1515 Restaurant. He'd been spending his spare time delving into molecular gastronomy -- what Teich calls "progressive cooking" -- and that was a style 1515 Restaurant had already embraced. "I'd gotten the Alinea cookbook and started playing around with agar and other molecular elements of cooking, mostly because I felt like I needed to have a solid understanding of it to keep up," he says. "I didn't want to be left behind."