Nate Bychinski, exec chef of Mateo, on cow tongue, TV drama and the McDouble
This is part one of my interview with Nate Bychinski, exec chef of Mateo; part two of my interview with Bychinski will run tomorrow.
"I didn't play with knives, but I definitely did my fair share of cooking," says Nate Bychinski, remembering his younger years in Wausau, Wisconsin, where he grew up bow-hunting white-tailed deer on his cousin's farm and working in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother. "My grandmother came from a family that ate a lot of peasant food, and that's what we ate, too: lots of chipped beef on toast, macaroni and cheese and pfeffernüsse -- little nuggets of bread dough that my grandmother perfected," says Bychinski, who's now immersed in French cuisine at Mateo, in Boulder.
But while he enjoyed cooking, Bychinski never thought he'd make a career out of it. "I love animals, and I really wanted to be a zoologist, but I guess my path led me to culinary school -- and cooking -- instead of the zoo," he says. "Cooking was always prevalent in my childhood. I liked cooking for my friends, and I knew that I didn't want a desk job, so I decided to go to culinary school in Minneapolis. I knew there was a lot of camaraderie in a kitchen, and I loved the art of creating and building beautiful flavors, of trying new things and ideas, with the ultimate goal of creating something perfect on the plate."
Bychinski attended Art Institutes International, splitting his time between the classroom and professional kitchens, cooking for free at restaurants, he says, "just to get the experience and make sure that I wanted to stick with it." He began his career on the line, climbing higher up the ladder each time he got a gig at a new restaurant, which included a stint at the Chambers Kitchen in Minneapolis, a restaurant launched by star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
A few years after graduating from culinary school and cooking at various high-volume, high-profile restaurants, he and his then-girlfriend (now fiancée) packed their suitcases and headed for Denver. Bychinski had spent a year during his childhood in the Mile High City as a result of his father's job, and he wanted to come back. "I love the whole state, especially the mountains, and I always wanted to move back here," he says.
After a brief layover at a local country club, Bychinski joined the crew at Mateo, kicking off his tenure as a grill chef, quickly moving up to sous chef and eventually taking over the kitchen. "The best things about my job are the freedoms I have with the menu, the local ingredients and high quality of products we use, and the tools we have in the restaurant to make those products," says Bychinski.