Bocadillo's Derek Dietz: "My greatest accomplishment as a chef will be when I become a chef"
This is part two of my interview with Derek Dietz, chef-owner of Bocadillo; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
Most underrated Denver restaurant:
JJ's Chinese Seafood, which has great Chinese food and lots of live fish that turn into dinner. One of the things I miss most about Philadelphia is Chinatown, where we would get awesome food on a weekly basis, and JJ's is the closest thing I've found to authentic Chinese food in Denver. Chef Kevin Ho worked in Guangzhao, China, for twenty years, and it shows in his cooking. His seafood is amazing.
Most underrated chef in Denver:
Christopher Howe, sous-chef at the Kitchen. He was my poissonier at the Fountain in Philly six years ago, and I've seen his skills firsthand. He helped me get to where I am now, and he continues to motivate me with just his presence.
If you could have dinner, all expenses paid, at any restaurant in the world, where would you go?
Sukiyabashi, Jiro Ono's sushi restaurant in Tokyo -- and the only three-star Michelin restaurant in the world without a bathroom. I also believe Jiro's philosophy toward cooking is one of the greatest. Yamamota, a Japanese food writer, put it nicely: "If you were to sum up Jiro's sushi in a nutshell...its ultimate simplicity leads to purity." I love great sushi, and his is the best. I'd also like to see Tokyo and try some of the most expensive fish in the world.
If you left Denver to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
Probably back to Philadelphia, just because I have a lot of connections there in the culinary world, and my mom is still there. It's hard here in Denver, because I have no family here.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth:
Bull-calf testicles, otherwise known as Rocky Mountain oysters. They were tasty, and I'd eat more, but they're probably the weirdest things I've ever eaten. It can't get much weirder than testicles.
Would you ever send a dish back if you were dining in a friend's restaurant?
No, I wouldn't send a dish back anywhere unless I knew the food would make me sick, like sour sushi. I understand what's going on in a restaurant and realize that shit happens. Later, if I had any constructive criticism that I thought they would respond well to, I'd let them know.
What do you expect from a restaurant critic?
I think it's important for a critic to understand the story behind any restaurant or dish -- to know why the restaurant opened, the goals of the chef, and the background and history of the establishment, including the employees. It's not just the taste of the food. I obviously expect honesty when a critic comes in, and I also expect criticism -- constructive criticism. Feedback is good only if it's constructive and gives us ideas as to how we can make the proper improvements. If you just say the food was bad, then I don't know what I should do to improve it. If you say the food could have been hotter, then I have something specific to work on.
Recent innovation that's most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way:
Sous-vide cooking. The immersion circulator and Cryovac machines have created an ingenious way to cook just about anything. Being able to cook a tenderloin for twelve hours and not worry about it overcooking is awesome. Most of the great restaurants in the country, and around the world, are using nothing but sous vide for their meats, fish and veggies.