There’s something to be said about a chef that “goes the long route”, and if there’s a chef that embodies that statement, it’s Olav Peterson. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with him at his beautiful restaurant, Bittersweet. What followed was an hour and a half of food, philosophy, and an overall enlightening experience.

Before I get into the interview, or the dishes, I’d like to give you a little background information on this interview. While I love finding new places to go eat, I also love having a true dining experience.  I know these experiences don’t occur often for most people, but when they do, they are truly unforgettable.

That being said, Bittersweet is a true dining experience. They focus highly on seasonal cuisine, fueled by their garden that surrounds the restaurant. This means that while you’re eating at your table, you can glance out the window and actually see where a part of your dish came from. This is pretty impactful, especially given our tendencies to choose the easy route in our day-to-day eating habits.

I had a few choice questions to ask before we got to the food. I did have to shorten some of the answers for easy reading, but if you’d like to hear the full interview, it’s listed right below the questions. Either way, I think these give you a great insight into the ethereal mind of Chef Olav Peterson.

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IE: What age did you start cooking?

OP: 14

IE: Where did you go to culinary school?

OP: I studied more in Europe basically – kind of the school of hard knocks.

IE: Who’s your favorite Chef?

OP: I like different aspects from all sorts of different chefs when it comes down to it. There are a variety of people who inspire me such as: Ferran Adria, David Burke, Grant at Alinea. But I don’t necessarily have one particular one.

Locally my favorite chef is Ian Kleinman though.

IE: What’s your favorite ingredient to cook with?

OP: There is no favorite ingredient, it really just depends on the seasons. And that really refers to our food here at Bittersweet – artisanal cuisine, seasonally driven. My favorite ingredient changes from day-to-day.

One thing that I can definitely say is necessary in all foods is salt. It always enhances flavor, it always brings flavor out.

IE: What staples do you keep in fridge or pantry at home?

OP: Clarified butter. Eggs. Grains usually – risotto, bulgur wheat, semolina.

IE: If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?

OP: That’s a good question. Spaghetti with meat sauce. It was always my favorite food growing up as a kid.

IE: What’s one guilty pleasure in food you have?

OP: I don’t really have a guilty pleasure per se – uh, sandwiches. Sandwiches as a whole would be my guilty pleasure.

IE: What’s it like opening up a restaurant with your wife?

OP: It’s great – the whole aspect of being able to be with your wife every day. We have an 8-week old newborn who I get to see everyday – that’s really why we started the whole thing – more or less spend more time with each other

Also, we have a love for food and gardening, it was kind of the natural progression. Really, at the end of the day, that’s why we did it – to be together.

IE: Bittersweet focuses on providing a Farm-to-Table experience. What types of vegetables are you growing now?

OP: We’re just starting it basically. There’s 2 blueberry bushes out there. Tomatoes, peppers, squashes, cucumbers, and we will plant corn – we’re just waiting for it to get a little warmer. Corn’s just kind of fickle.

We have a second garden which houses chard, leafier greens, lettuce greens, basil, dill, chives.

IE: Any tip for the home gardener?

OP: We use chives basically everywhere. You’ll see 30-40 chive plants intermingled. Primarily, what chives do is deter aphids.

IE: What’s your favorite spot to grab indie eats?

OP: There’s some cool little taquerias around town, and stuff like that, that I think are really good. There’s one on I-25 and Evans called La Taqueria Carniceria.

Devil’s Food my wife and I go to a lot for brunch. It’s in the south Gaylord area.

IE: People always want to know tips and tricks from Chefs. Got anything for my readers?

OP: It’s pretty simple really, just love your food. Really enjoy the process of what your doing.

I worked with a few chefs that really beat into us as young cooks that you have to remember – whether it’s a vegetable or a piece of meat – that entity died for a reason. A cow died for a reason. It died to become steak. That steak you should respect, because at one point this had a life. You should really take care, and love that part of it – these are all aspects of how we get to good food.

IE: That’s an awesome philosophy.

After a tour of the gardens that surround the restaurant, we sat down to try a few select dishes. Now, Chef Olav will tell you that he doesn’t have any favorites, but I still made him select what I was going to have. For these dishes, I had the Chef walk through each of them for me. Below I have a brief description of what we ate, but if you’d like to know more, the audio clip is provided as well.

Dish 1 – Alsacienne Tart – Spring Vegetables and Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese

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Dish 2 – Sweetbread Reuben – Caraway Brioche, Pickled Tomato, Jarlsburg Fondue

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Dish 3 – Lamb Sausage – Fresno Emulsion, Grilled Spring Salad
Dish 4 – Veal Rib-Eye – Lobster Potato Risotto, Potato Foam

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Dish 5 – Poussin – Wild Boar Ham and Grilled Spring Onion Dressing, Hazelnut Puree, Smoked Jus

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Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a shot of the Lamb Sausage dish – I had some technical difficulties. Maybe next year I’ll spring for a photographer, ha! Anyways, once I had finished all of the dishes, I realized what Chef Olav was talking about. I couldn’t pick a favorite either. Each of them had a very unique profile and was incredible in their own way. I will say this though – the Sweetbread Reuben was the most intriguing to me. I normally don’t care for sweetbreads much, but this dish was so inventive, and prepared in such a different way that I have to say this is the dish I would suggest to people. Not because it was my favorite, but because it could introduce you to something you normally wouldn’t eat.

Being able to try new things, and experience dining at its best is something that is often under-appreciated in America. Don’t get me wrong, I love grabbing a taco from a street vendor, but I also love to have an experience with friends and family over a dinner table. This “dining experience” is something that was very apparent in the way Chef Olav goes about running a restaurant. It’s apparent in his garden. It’s apparent in cooking. He’s about “going the long route” which is something to truly be appreciated.

Bittersweet is a wonderful addition to Denver, and the neighborhood it’s in. It’s a stunning building, surrounded by serene gardens growing fresh vegetables and incredible flowers. Even in a down economy, having an experience like dining at Bittersweet is something everyone should aim for. Whether it’s a birthday, graduation, anniversary, or just that much needed date night, this is something that you should treat yourself to.

Chef Olav Peterson – Interview by indieeats