Los Chingones's Lou Ortiz: "You'll always be a rookie in someone else's kitchen"
This is part two of my interview with Lou Ortiz, executive sous-chef at Los Chingones; part one of our chat ran earlier this week.
Most underrated Denver restaurant:
Go Fish on Broadway. They make awesome sushi, and it was the first sushi place I went to when I moved to Denver. I just never hear anyone raving about it, and they should be, because it really is that good. It may be slightly overshadowed by some of the more popular or trendy places in town, but it definitely shouldn't be passed up.
Who's the most underrated chef in Denver?
Jeff Hickman, the savory-items chef at Sugarmill. He makes the most amazing food that's full of flavor and texture, and he's a food scientist at heart and traditionally likes making classic gourmet American comfort food. I'd put his beef Wellington up against anyone, anywhere. He's one of the guys to watch in Denver.
What advice would you give to an aspiring young chef?
Be humble. No matter how great of a chef you may eventually become, you'll always be a rookie in someone else's kitchen. Never assume that there isn't something valuable you can learn from a line cook or a prep chef or a dishwasher. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences, so use the knowledge from the people around you to grow as a whole. You'll be a stronger chef because of it.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff?
I look for industry passion and the willingness to learn and grow. I always ask cooks why they want to work for me, and if they say they need a job, or they just like working, then they don't make the cut. I want to hear things like "I love to cook," "I want to be a chef one day" or "I want to increase my knowledge about cooking and grow." Have the fire that shows that you'll take what I give to you and run with it. I'll take care of the rest.
What's your biggest challenge as a chef working in Denver?
Keeping up with the demand and wanting to be the best. Over 300 restaurants opened this year in the Denver area, and people obviously love to eat out, and it's my goal to make sure that Los Chingones is always a place that people want to go to, whether they live in Denver or they're just visiting. Since new competition is popping up all the time, I have to make sure I don't miss a beat; I have to stay ahead of the game. Python tacos, people, python tacos.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way?
I'd have to say foodie apps for phones, like LivingSocial, Groupon, Yelp, OpenTable or any other app out there that helps people find new restaurants and provides incentives. It's got to be challenging for diners to pick where to eat, with so many great restaurants in town, and I feel like these apps have encouraged people to be more adventurous in trying places that they haven't been instead of going to the same handful of places over and over again.
Favorite culinary-related gift you've been given:
A few months after I moved to Colorado from the East Coast, my previous boss, chef Mike Petrilla, sent me a goodbye-and-good-luck package. Inside there was a great chef's knife along with other nerdier things. The knife is one of the most valued tools in my chef's bag. It meant a lot. Still does.
Favorite culinary-related item to give as a gift:
Small nested glass bowls. I love using them at my house to line up ingredients for dinner and then as presentation dishes. They're just nice accessories all around, and most people don't have them -- and if they do, they can always use more.