John Little, chef of Harman's Eat & Drink: "I'm a workaholic"
This is part two of my interview with John Little, exec chef of Harman's Eat & Drink; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
Most incredible meal you've ever eaten: I used to work at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, where they host amazing dinners with just about every great chef you can think of, and I had the pleasure of cooking with Thomas Keller and the chefs de cuisine from all of his restaurants. Specifically, I was teamed up with Jonathan Benno, who was the chef de cuisine at Per Se at the time, and it just so happened that I was going to New York the following week for a Star Chefs event, and he said that I should stop by the restaurant for dinner. I e-mailed him two days before to confirm but got no response, so I decided to just do what he asked and "stop by." I remember nervously telling the hostess my story while she looked at me like I was a bit crazy, but then she took me in the kitchen where they had a seat set up, and from there, they sent out close to twenty courses of perfection, except that my last savory course -- it somehow seemed like an à la carte portion and not a tasting-size portion -- made me so stuffed that I didn't think I could eat anything else. But instead of tapping out, I went to the bathroom and puked so I could just taste dessert. Five courses later, I was happy I did, because it was the most amazing food I've ever put in my mouth -- and watching such a talented crew turn out such perfection was just incredible. After dessert, they gave me a kitchen tour and then sent me on my way. Experiences like this change the way you look at food, the way you treat people, and your general outlook on what hospitality is really all about. It changed me as a person.
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What cookbooks and/or food-related reading material do you draw inspiration from? Culinary Artistry, my favorite book, is compiled by some incredible chefs who focus on a lot more than just recipes: They talk about balancing acidity, seasonality and other important aspects. It's a book that teaches you about what pairs well with what, and it shows you flavor profiles, forcing you to come up with your own ideas rather than stealing recipes. I actually just bought four copies -- one for me, because mine is falling apart, and three for my sous chefs.
Favorite dish on your menu right now: Pan-roasted scallops with coriander spaetzle, Olathe sweet corn, jalapeño, cilantro and avocado mousse. It's pretty simple, but everything just pops. It's something I'd like to cook on my day off.
What dish would you love to put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell? I'd love to put a squab course with some sort of foie sauce on the menu, but it doesn't fit our concept. It's such a tasty treat that's woefully underappreciated, and a lot of diners get freaked out when their bird isn't cooked well done.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: Horse tartare at Black Hoof in Toronto. So amazing.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Taste, taste, taste. Don't lose sight of the fact that you're creating the dish, not the recipe, because recipes are a dime a dozen. Does it need more acid or more salt? Would you rather add oregano than thyme because it pairs better with everything else you're cooking? Make it your own; don't be handcuffed by a recipe.
What specific requests would you ask of Denver diners? Come to Cherry Creek. So many people think that Cherry Creek has a certain reputation, but we're here to change that. We want to be that neighborhood joint with crazy-good food and drinks in an unpretentious atmosphere. It doesn't matter who you are, what you're wearing, or what kind of car you drive.
Most underrated Denver restaurant: Euclid Hall. I think chef Jorel Pierce and his crew turn out amazingly good and fun food, especially considering the numbers they do and the size of their line. And their beer list is second to none, as far as restaurants in the area go. Don't miss the cocktails, either. I used to make excuses to visit Denver when I was living in Basalt, just to nerd out on great drinks and food at Euclid Hall.