Chef Andrew Selvaggio on being an answer to a question on Jeopardy
This is part two of my interview with Andrew Selvaggio, chef of Smashburger, Live Basil and Tom's Urban; part one of my chat with Selvaggio ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal you've ever had:
It was in 1983, at Michael's in Santa Monica. The general manager of the restaurant where I was the executive chef took me on an immersive culinary tour around Los Angeles to experience what was then known as California cuisine. We went to Spago, La Toque, 72 Market Street, West Beach Cafe in Venice and Michael's in Santa Monica, where Jonathan Waxman was the chef. He amazed me with his frisée salad with lardon, poached egg and glace de viande; mosaic of melon with a chile-lime dressing and cotija cheese; and the grilled Muscovy duck breast served fanned, its pink flesh seared and sliced on top of a raspberry glace du canard and then surrounded with fanned and turned baby vegetables. The meal finished with raspberry, lemon and mango sorbets with fresh baked cookies and berries. Oh, and then there was the Bonny Doon ice wine. The experience was illuminating.
Your three favorite Denver restaurants other than your own:
As a single parent, I need to find places that the kids and I can enjoy together, and one of the most satisfying experiences as a chef-parent is exposing your children to new foods, which is why we go to Peking Tokyo Express. I love the stuffed chicken wings, and they also do a great pad Thai. We do a bunch of apps, which is fun, and the food is fast and fresh from the kitchen. We also love the Yabby Hut. What's not to like? We all have bibs, eat with our hands -- and the kids like spicy food, so they're totally into it. We order the king crab with the Cajun hot sauce and the whole shrimp with medium-hot garlic butter. They dump all the seafood on butcher paper and give you paper towels, so it's one of those places where the kids can get messy -- and get some great food. We live really close to Belmar, so we also go to Wasabi Sushi Bar for its traditional and signature sushi rolls, gyoza and seaweed salad.
Most underrated restaurant in Denver:
The Evil Bean, which is in the Park Central building downtown. They're a great team that bakes all the croissants, bagels and bread for their sandwiches, plus they do roast chicken breast throughout the day that's cooked to order on the flat grill. They have daily specials, too -- everything from a Sloppy Joe melt to a grilled Buffalo chicken sandwich, and everything is a great value.
Who is Denver's next rising-star chef?
The sous-chefs, or number twos, working under the chef that's receiving all the accolades from the media, public and his peers. It's that person who's behind the scenes running the kitchen when the chef isn't there, executing his or her vision while submitting their own creations to the chef for approval and refinement. It's the person who, when given the right opportunity, will pour out their soul on the plate. Look at some of the top-rated Denver restaurants and you'll find those people. I would keep my eye on those who are proving themselves in the kitchens of Frank Bonanno and Jennifer Jasinski, who have already contributed greatly to the Denver culinary scene.
Which living chef do you most admire?
Giuliano Bugialli. His book, The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, is one I turn to often for inspiration and to refresh my memory about what I value most about Italian cuisine. He's been writing books for twenty years and began his cooking career in Florence in the '70s -- and I'd love to attend one of his cooking classes.
What do you enjoy most about your craft?
Creating something from nothing. Remember the saying "Thoughts are things"? That's the true essence of what I do for our team. A vision is created, and I work on making that vision a reality, together with Tom Ryan. It's extremely satisfying seeing a menu grow through prototype, refinement and execution phases. I found myself recently reflecting on and remembering the first day I worked on the dough for Live Basil Pizza, and here we are with our third restaurant. But most of all, it's that feeling you get when you walk through the dining room and there's a sense of electricity and excitement in the air. It's when I ask the most important question: "How is everything?" -- and the response is a huge smile from the guest, who says "Wonderful" without breaking focus from their plate.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a chef?
In the past, before I became a product-development chef, it was finding -- and retaining -- great people to work in my kitchen, the ones who have a whatever-it-takes attitude along with a burning desire to listen, learn and succeed. I also found it difficult to get out of the kitchen and explore what other chefs were doing. I also found it challenging to find the balance between ingredient and recipe innovation while still maintaining profitability. Now, as a product-development chef, the biggest challenge is when we work under an accelerated development timeline and we need to go from ideation to prototype to refinement to implementation in a short time period. Sourcing ingredients is a challenge, as well. Ironically, it's the chaos that makes me feel the most alive, because it's such an immersive experience. It's extremely gratifying.