Derek Dietz, chef of Bocadillo: "Please, no more dusts, foams or fake caviar"
This is part one of my interview with Derek Dietz, chef-owner of Bocadillo; part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.
I've always had an eating problem," jokes Derek Dietz. "When I was a kid, I was always the one who was most excited about cooking, and I was intently focused on what my next meal was going to be, especially dinner," says the 24-year-old chef-owner of Bocadillo, who grew up eating cheesesteaks in the land of Amoroso rolls: Philadelphia.
His mom would assign a different dinner night to each of the three kids. "My brother would order a pizza, my sister would make some sort of Chinese curried chicken, and I'd always make something different," Dietz recalls, adding that "I was lucky to figure out that I loved cooking when I was really young; I've never done -- or wanted to do -- anything else."
His passion for cooking eventually led him to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where he landed a privileged externship at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. "I wanted to learn as much as I could in a professional kitchen, and cooking at the Four Seasons was just too valuable of an experience to give up, so I stayed there for another year and then went back to culinary school with experience in a five-star kitchen and a solid grasp of the fundamentals of cooking," explains Dietz.
And once Dietz finally graduated from said school, Martin Hamann, the exec chef at the Four Seasons, called with news that he was leaving to open his own restaurant -- and he wanted Dietz to join him. "I started working for Martin, and it was the most awesome experience ever," says Dietz. "The food was amazing, we had an endless budget, truffles coming out the yazoo, and it was always raining foie gras." But after two years in Hamann's kitchen, Dietz decided that he wanted a different backdrop, and he moved to Denver in late 2011. "I love the mountains and Colorado's beautiful climate, and I knew that Denver was a really cool city with access to great ingredients, so moving here was an easy choice," he says.
In June 2012, he opened Bocadillo, originally as a Spanish-influenced sandwich shop. "I fell in love with the Sunnyside neighborhood, the huge kitchen and the space, and it had always been my dream to open a restaurant," says Dietz. Before long, Bocadillo had generated a scroll of accolades; the restaurant was a hit with the neighborhood, foodniks and food writers alike. But that November, Dietz's world took a heart-wrenching turn when his sister was in a horrific car accident that completely paralyzed her. "I lost it mentally and broke down because of the stress and the grief, so I closed Bocadillo and moved back to Philly to be with my mom and sister," says Dietz.