DJ Nagle, chef of Humboldt: Farm, Fish, Wine: "Respect the dishwashers"
This is part two of my interview with DJ Nagle, executive chef of Humboldt: Farm, Fish, Wine; the first installment of our chat ran yesterday.
Most noteworthy meal you've ever eaten:
When I was a young cook working at Indigo restaurant in San Francisco, my chef had a friend who managed Tra Vigne in Napa Valley, and he invited us to dine there. We were treated like VIPs and enjoyed at least twelve courses, including confit pork shank, quail pasta, fresh mozzarella (this was before the burrata craze) and chocolate budino. It was just an extraordinary meal and over-the-top awesome. I hope that more meals like that are in my future.
Your three favorite Denver restaurants other than your own:
Euclid Hall, because they just do things right over there; Osteria Marco has great pizza and salumi; and, at Charcoal, I love the ambience, and the food just makes me happy, plus they have great service and there's no pretense.
Most underrated Denver restaurant:
La Fiesta, a great standby Mexican place that's been doing things right for so many years. I totally crave their food.
Who's the most underrated chef in Denver?
Alex German, who was a sous-chef of mine at North and also cooked at Osteria Marco and True Food Kitchen. Alex is taking time off now to get ready for the future, but whatever he does, it'll be great. I promise.
Favorite dish on your menu right now:
Our farm-stand salad with spring peas, asparagus, haricots verts, spring onions, radishes and baby arugula with a white-balsamic dressing. It's fresh and satisfying and has all of the things I crave at this time of year, and I sometimes throw a piece of grilled albacore or salmon on it. It's an awesome way to end a shift; I need to eat it more often.
What dish would you love to put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell?
Duck, anything duck. Duck-confit risotto, or roasted duck with crispy skin and cherries. To me, duck is one of the world's most perfect foods.
What specific requests would you ask of Denver diners?
Please understand that seafood in Denver is fresh. Colorado diners sometimes question eating seafood in a land-locked state, but what they don't know is that we often get the fish here long before restaurants get it delivered on the coasts. We have a network of seafood suppliers like Denver-based Seattle Fish Company, whose goal is to procure and move fresh seafood quickly. They do it well and keep us fully supplied all through the week.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth:
I bet you were hoping for cobra heart or something. Nope. I'm big on textures of food -- bad, good or weird. I've tried duck tongues, cocks' combs and pig ears, all of which might be considered "weird." Weird, yes, but also tasty.
Would you ever send a dish back if you were dining in a friend's restaurant?
Yes, and I would expect the same in return.