Marty Steinke, exec chef of Linger: "Anonymity is paramount"
This is part one of my interview with Marty Steinke, exec chef of Linger; part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.
It's a good thing that Marty Steinke doesn't hold grudges against grease, because if he did, he might never have become a chef. The oldest of three, Steinke, now the executive chef at Linger, was the designated cook at home, holding the phone to his ear while his single, working mom dictated dinner directions -- and that's how he was nearly sizzled to death by a hamburger. "She asked me to do burgers for dinner, and I spilled grease all the way down my leg and burned the crap out of myself. The pain was insane," says Steinke, who admits that the greasy encounter didn't do a whole lot to motivate him to pursue cooking.
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"It was hard at first, and I wasn't really into it," he recalls, "probably because my first experiences cooking at home really kinda sucked, and I was justifiably gun-shy."
But a chance meeting a few years later, when he was fifteen, swept the bad memories under the stove. He was volunteering at a bingo hall in Arvada when he noticed that a Pudge Brothers Pizza was under construction across the street, and because Steinke was a teenager, and teenagers are hungry for money, he wandered over, introduced himself to the owners, and after a few weeks of laying tile and painting walls, he was tapped as a pizza cook -- and that's where his cooking career began. "I thought the kitchen looked fun and the guys were badass; I wanted to be one of them," says Steinke, who tossed dough at the prolific chain for two years.
But while he was interested in making money, his mom was more interested in making sure that her son went to college. "She wanted me to choose a challenging major, so I picked computer science," remembers Steinke, who stuck it out until his last semester. "The tech bubble burst, my friends in the field were all losing their jobs, and I got freaked out, so I dropped out...and went to Europe to go backpacking."
He did time on the line there, too, at a three-restaurant resort in the German Alps, where, says Steinke, "I learned all the fundamentals of cooking." And when he wasn't cooking, he strapped a pack to his back and traveled, visiting nineteen countries, eating and immersing himself in beer, wine and cheese.
After three years in Europe, though, he missed home, so he returned to Denver and landed a sous-chef gig at Ellyngton's at the Brown Palace, working for an Austrian chef. "I remember doing the phone interview all in German -- he liked me," says Steinke, who was eventually promoted to saucier at the opulent hotel. "Being a saucier had always been a dream of mine. There's an elegance to making beautiful soups and sauces -- a lot of dishes start and end with sauces -- and it was an essential step in my culinary education." Steinke spent three years at the Brown. "I loved it there, but I missed the intimacy of cooking in a small restaurant and being on the line," he says.