Robert Alfaro, chef of Atticus: "You have to wash the grime off and come back swinging the bat"
This is part two of my interview with Robert Alfaro, chef of Atticus; part one of our interview ran yesterday.
What do you enjoy most about your craft?
Making people happy with good, wholesome food. Happiness comes from seeing a smile or someone telling me that their food was great. That's always a fulfilling thing to hear, and likely one of the reasons I've been in this craft for so long. That said, you have to accept the criticism and negative comments as well. If a customer is unhappy, your ability to keep them smiling is another art.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a chef?
Trying to balance a family life of five kids and an amazing wife, who has a job and does everything else while I work long chef's hours. She also has to cope with me talking about the demands of running a kitchen or two, but this career is what it is. It changes daily, and you have to wash the grime off and come back swinging the bat every day.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring chef?
Learn patience, because patience is interrupted by all kinds of things every day. You have to learn to adjust, be patient and work things out calmly and smoothly.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff?
Confidence, culinary skills and abilities, efficient knife skills and people who can take a joke. Kitchens are high-stress, and laughter is a good way to break the pressure.
Kitchen rule you always adhere to:
Food temperature and sanitation are both extremely important. We're responsible for monitoring our cooks and staff and explaining to them the importance of hand-washing, what to clean our cutting surfaces and utensils with, and teaching them to cook or heat food properly. The food you're serving needs to be thought of as something you would serve your grandmother.
Kitchen rule you're not afraid to break:
Pushing the rules of food pairing and allowing creativity -- and input -- from the kitchen staff so that the styles of cooking can vary.
Would you ever send a dish back if you were dining in a friend's restaurant?
I wouldn't send it back, but I would tell them what I thought. If it's my friend, he or she should understand that I'm trying to be helpful and not hurtful. I would expect the same from them. We strive to sell the same plate to everyone, and believe me: Criticism can come from anyone.
Weirdest customer request:
I love the people that get the plain, unseasoned burgers for their dogs. There was a lady at LoHi SteakBar who fostered dogs, and if they were sick or on their way to a new home, she would stop at the restaurant and buy them a steak.
Favorite dish on your menu:
Our butcher's choice, which is three different meats or seafood. It gives me the chance to create three simple dishes all on one plate, and I like offering different experiences in small portions to showcase our food.