Part two with Gerard Strong, exec chef of Central Bistro & Bar
This is part two of my interview with Gerard Strong, exec chef of Central Bistro & Bar; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal in Denver that you've ever had: I've had most of my top meals at Cafe Brazil. The flavors of each dish are so complex, and also very fresh and simple. The mango soup is some of the best I've ever had; everyone from the waitstaff to the chef, Tony Zarlenga, is incredibly friendly, attentive and relaxed, and the overall dining experience is wonderful.
- Gerard Strong, exec chef of Central Bistro & Bar, on nearly hurling in Vietnam
- All whiskey, all the time, starting in late June at Central Bistro & Bar
- Hot damn! Central Bistro & Bar redefines what a neighborhood restaurant can be
Your five favorite Denver/Boulder restaurants other than your own: Los Carboncitos, for the al pastor tacos; Hops & Pie, for the amazing crust on the pizzas, friendly owners and great beer list; New Saigon, for the lemongrass beef bun and all of the banh mi selections at the deli; Wooden Spoon Bakery, especially for the prosciutto croissant and the energy of the place; and Z Cuisine, for the atmosphere -- plus I used to be the chef de cuisine there, so I'm a pretty big fan of the intent and approach of the Z Cuisine culinary team.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I came here from Seattle, where there's a very strong food community. Restaurants there don't compete; they collaborate. Everyone supports each other's restaurants, wants them to be successful and unique, and because of those things, the food community is elevated as a whole. I think this exists in circles here in Denver, but I'd love to foster more camaraderie among the chefs and restaurants in our own neighborhood, as well as the city as a whole.
What's your idea of a great dining experience? When I eat out, I want the experience to be seamless. I don't want to be aware that things are happening -- like when you start thinking about asking for the bill, and you look down and it's already there but you never noticed it. Or your wine glass is always full but you didn't see it being filled. I don't like overly chatty servers -- the best ones are like ghosts, taking care of everything without interrupting anything. I like having all my expectations met, when I'm not even sure what they are. Being pleasantly surprised is great.
What's the best compliment someone could give you? When a guest dines at Central for the first time, and then they come back, and then come back again. Making a first-timer into a regular is the best.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way? Fast-casual dining has certainly put a focus on speed and using somewhat elevated ingredients at a price point that's appealing to many people, but it puts undue pressure on restaurant owners and chefs to compete with this model. If you're not a fast-casual restaurant -- if you're a restaurant that's creating a more intimate food-and-drink-centered dining experience -- you sometimes get diners who, even though they know you're not that, still want food made fast.
What's your fantasy splurge? Eight weeks in Laos and Cambodia with my woman, Rebecca. We'd just eat our way through both countries, trying all the different styles and cuisines, eating from food carts and local places. And we'd relax. I'd love to have two months off -- but who ever takes that much time away?
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A friend of mine who worked for a grocery store gave me a Vita-Prep, which is the most versatile piece of equipment in my kitchen. Apparently the grocery store had a closet full of them and wasn't using them, and even though I offered to buy it, he refused. I use it for sauces, soups, marinades and, well, margaritas.