TJ Hobbs, chef of Ghost Plate & Tap, on portion size, pastry and Pepsi
This is part one of my interview with TJ Hobbs, chef of Ghost Plate & Tap; part two of our interview will run tomorrow.
TJ Hobbs remembers rushing through dinner to watch The Simpsons. It's not that his parents couldn't cook -- though his dad did a mighty fine job of charring burgers to the point of being inedible, he says -- but food just wasn't the center of his universe. "We had tons of food on holidays, and on Sunday, we'd do a family brunch or dinner, but we weren't obsessed by it," recalls Hobbs, today the chef at Ghost Plate & Tap.
When he was growing up in a small country town in Minnesota, though, his grandmother had a garden, and Hobbs recounts lugging home more than he could carry. "We'd come back with twenty pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers, and while it didn't really resonate at the time, I have my own vegetable garden now, and I still call my grandmother whenever I have gardening questions," he says. Unfortunately, he failed to call her last summer when he planted eight tomatillo plants, which "took over absolutely everything." Remember that, he advises, if you ever plant a tomatillo plant.
And burgers, he insists, should not be black, the way his father made them. Still, it was those burgers that piqued Hobbs's interest in learning how to cook. "I wanted my burger medium -- not charred -- so I complained one day, and my dad said that if I didn't like his burgers, I should start grilling them myself, so I did. And that's kind of what propelled the fascination with cooking," he says.
He started putting in hours at a local organic farm, then got his first real job at an upscale meat market, where he washed dishes and exchanged pleasantries with customers at the counter. He'd spent three years there, moving up to assistant manager and meat cutter, by the time he trotted off to Colorado for a vacation. He liked what he found here so much that he decided to leave Minnesota behind for 300-some days of sunshine. "I remember snowboarding in my sweatshirt and wearing shorts to the zoo the next day, and I knew that I'd love the climate in Colorado," he says. Plus, "I started discovering how big the restaurant scene was getting in Denver."