Chris Canales, chef of Volta: "Don't think that being a chef is glamorous"
This is part two of my interview with Chris Canales, exec chef of Volta; part one of my chat with Canales ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal you've ever had:
I can't remember a single most memorable meal, but all my memories are associated with food in one way or another. When I was growing up we didn't have much, but we always had good food, whether it was for a birthday or a funeral. No matter what, my mom and my aunts were always making something delicious.
Most underrated restaurant in Denver/Boulder:
Lee Yuan. The owners, Nancy and Kenny, are the raddest people ever, and eating there is like going home; it stokes my heart space. Kenny works in back and Nancy works up front, and they make the best Chinese food I've eaten in Colorado, plus they're just really good people.
Who is Denver's next rising-star chef?
I don't really know about rising stars, but I do know about shooting stars. One time after I got home from a late night at work, I stood outside my house and saw nine shooting stars in about twenty minutes. That's my record.
Which living chef do you most admire?
I admire anyone who wakes up early and works hard all day, putting their heart and soul on a plate for much less money than they deserve. Everyone knows that being a chef is hard work, but what people don't realize is that being a chef is a hard life. Most chefs are underpaid, underappreciated and overworked, not to mention the number of sacrifices they make when it comes to family life. Most working chefs die younger than they should because of something related to working in kitchens for too many years. When you dedicate your life to honing your technique and developing your craft, it doesn't leave a whole lot of time for anything else, which is why I respect all chefs and don't idolize the "celebrity" culture that creates personas rather than great chefs.
What do you enjoy most about your craft?
Mastering various types of technique. Technique allows you to make whatever you want without recipes. Recipes were cool back in the 1950s, but let's see what a chef can do with whatever ingredients are in front of him or her right now. When you have technique, anything is possible, and you can create from scratch, which is what I like best about working at Volta. I can take raw and seasonal ingredients and create some deliciousness from them, but without technique, this would be impossible.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a chef?
Owners. Anyone who's ever been a chef knows that the owners want to make money -- and you want to make money for them, but there are always compromises involved.
What do you expect from a restaurant critic?
I expect the critic to know what he or she is writing about. If you're going to critique a dish, make sure you know that dish. On many occasions, I've read reviews where a dish is described, and it's not what they ate. Restaurant critics have a lot of power and can influence the fate of a lot of people's paychecks. Get it right, and it's okay to stay anonymous.