Alex Figura, chef of Lower48 Kitchen, on the chicken he turned into chewing gum
This is part two of my interview with Alex Figura, exec chef of Lower48 Kitchen; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal you've ever had:
This place in Barcelona, Spain, that was tucked away in an alley that my friend and I nicknamed "The Pig Palace." We had both been working in Europe for a good chunk of time, and this joint just hit the spot with its fried morcilla de burgos (blood sausage), chorizo and pork belly and a couple glasses of cava. It was the kind of place that's always packed, and all they serve is pork products with serving utensils that are nothing more than a bundle of toothpicks. The trash cans are the floors, and sausages and bellies hang from the ceiling. It's truly a classic.
Your three favorite Denver restaurants other than your own:
Fruition, because Matt Vawter and Alex Seidel's food is always great, plus they've helped the Denver food scene get to where it is today. Not only that, but Fruition Farm makes some killer cheese, too. It's a true game-changer. I also love Beast + Bottle. My girlfriend and I usually go there for brunch on my day off, and it's always great; the food, service and drinks are just on par every time. The same goes for the dinner service; it's just great all around. Saigon Bowl is fun and relaxing and something different from what I cook on a daily basis. And for a great price, you can get a wide variety of foods, flavors and textures, which makes it really fun.
Most underrated restaurant in Denver:
Not a restaurant, but a bakery. Babette's at the Source does a great job, and Steve Scott is an excellent baker. He's just under the radar, but in my mind, he creates some of the best breads in Denver. These types of shops help the public realize how we used to shop: going to individual stores and markets to get the products we need, and recognizing the true craft of being an artisan.
Who is Denver's next rising-star chef?
I think it will be someone from another market. Major restaurant cities have a lot of chefs from all over the world to make unique restaurants -- and that's something that Denver needs.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a chef?
Balancing our lives. We spend the majority of our time at work -- anywhere between twelve and sixteen hours a day, five or six days a week -- and balancing a life outside of work can be very difficult. Still, it's important to have a life outside of work and just enjoy life in general.
If you could make one request of Denver diners, what would it be?
To be up-front. I personally want to know what people think about the food/beverage/experience. Good or bad, I'd rather they be up-front and tell me what their opinions are rather than tweet, Yelp or Facebook about it. It will help us create a better experience overall. Also: Less is more. Food is expensive, and to serve products and still keep the prices low is difficult. Denver diners need to understand that. We go out of our way to find great products to serve to you, so when you get a fish that's sustainably caught and killed properly, appreciate it.
What do you expect from a restaurant critic?
Fairness. He or she should come into the restaurant with a clear mind, and there should be no preconceived notion that the place will be good or bad; this can be difficult, but it's necessary. And they should try their best to remain anonymous -- the reason being that they should be treated like everyone else. They also need to leave their personal life behind for that moment. Good day or bad day, you can't let your mood interfere with your overall experience.
If you could dress any way you want, what would you wear in the kitchen?
In the Lower48 kitchen, I prefer to wear my Bragard chef jacket and an apron that I got while working in Spain. It's just comfortable for me, and the cooks who work here feel the same. When I'm at home, or at one of my family's places, I usually just wear sandals, jeans and an old T-shirt. I'm not a big fan of dressing up.
If you could have dinner, all expenses paid, at any restaurant in the world, where would you go?
I would have liked to have gone to Bras, in France, when Michel Bras was the head chef, back in the late '80s and early '90s. He was ahead of his time then, and still is to this day. He opened so many doors and mindsets to make food what it is today. Remember the chocolate cake with the molten center? Bras is the guy who invented it.