Chef Interview: Troy Guard

January 24th, 2011

Some people get excited about seeing a celebrity eating at Pink’s Hot Dog stand in LA. Some people get excited about seeing John Elway having a drink at a Cherry Creek Bar. I, on the other hand, get excited about great Chefs.

One of my favorite Chefs and restaurateurs in Denver is one, Troy Guard. I was first introduced to Troy’s culinary flair at Nine75. My taste buds followed him wherever he went. From small plates and cucumber mojitos at Zengo, to a five-course paired dinner at Ocean with Roy Yamaguchi – I’ve always enjoyed his work.

After some strategic tweeting with @TAG_Restaurant, I was able to land an exclusive interview with the Denver culinary giant. With some nerves, and a lot of excitement, I wrote out questions that were geared towards the Indie Eats readers. I drove down to TAG Continental Social Food, set my iPhone on the cocktail table, and started talking.




The Interview

IE: What age did you start cooking?

TG: I can say as early as like 5 at home, but professionally like 12. I started with my neighbor who owned this sandwich shop. I would go and help him and he would pay me $3 an hour. I’d make sandwiches, make potato salad and stuff like that.

When I was 16 was when I really got into it. I started in California, in San Diego, in a place called Coco’s. That taught me volume. I never really knew I would do it professionally until years later, but it’s something I’ve always enjoyed.


IE: Where did you go to culinary school?

TG: I never did. My training was the school of hard knocks.


IE: What inspired you to begin cooking in the first place?

TG: I just always liked to do it. I like seeing something that starts from nothing, like flour, eggs, and butter, and wow I have these great cookies.


IE: Who’s your favorite Chef?

TG:I would have to say it’s Roy Yamaguchi. He’s my mentor, and I worked with him for 8 years. He was doing stuff that no one at the time was doing. Roy definitely is one of my favorites, just because he’s a great guy.


IE: What’s one ingredient you can’t stand?

TG: There’s not many, but one ingredient I can’t stand, that tastes like ass – it’s canned hearts of palm. They taste metallic and gross. Now we’re into freshness, back in the 70’s and 80’s everything was canned or frozen. And that stuff tastes like ass. Don’t ever eat it.


IE: What’s your favorite ingredient?

TG: I like soy sauce, to me that’s salt. When you eat something you always need some salt, but this also has depth, it’s been fermented. There’s different styles of soy sauce too – light, dark, less sodium, more sodium. Soy sauce can make anything taste better.


IE: What staples do you keep in fridge/pantry?

TG: Soy Sauce, Yuzu (Japanese Citrus), Truffle Oil, Chipotle Tabasco – I like that stuff because it’s smoky and tangy and spicy. I usually always have some type of salsa too. I love to make salsas because you can put them on eggs, sandwiches, entrees, and grilled veggies.

Pickles. I like pickles.


IE: Where’s your favorite spot to go eat Mexican Food?

TG: There’s a ton of great places. Definitely have to go to my buddy Jamie’s place, at Lola. I like his food. But if I’m going to grungy, hole-in the wall, there’s a place out by my house on Sheridan called Tacos Tijuana. I like that place a lot.

I’m from San Diego, we had the best of the best Mexican food, but Denver has some good places too. I love Mexican food. I love the different flavors. It’s kind of like asian food – you have the spicy, sweet, salty, fresh. That’s what why we did Zengo years ago.


IE: You’re on death row, being served your last meal, what is it?

TG: It’s a good question – I think of it often – because there’s so many great food things out there. I know it’s going to sound crazy but, a good burger. Burger, Fries, a Diet Coke – that would have to be my last.


IE: What’s one guilty pleasure in food you have? Jack in the Box Tacos? Top Ramen?

TG: I do love top ramen. 17 cents a package, I just bought them last week. And what I do is I make it and put fresh scallions, cilantro, soy sauce, and then if I want – add some proteins. Just a little bit of something makes the dish so much better.


IE: Nine75 was one of my favorite spots in Denver. It’s closing, took a piece of my heart with it. What happened there?

TG: Long story short, I was at Zengo, my wife was at Mao in Cherry Creek. We got together, her dad gave us some money, and we came up with the concept Nine75. Hip eclectic comfort food. Stuff we would want, cool music, great food, easy vibe – jeans, t-shirt. Everyone really, really enjoyed it. After a few years, the father-in-law-wife-husband thing just didn’t work out anymore, so we left to do our own place, TAG. Unfortunately when we left, her dad couldn’t maintain all the restaurants, and it kinda closed. But we loved that place. Hopefully one of these days we’ll have a reincarnation of something similar to Nine75.


IE: I loved your dinner at Ocean with Roy Yamaguchi, how did you two come to meet?

TG: I was 21, was working in San Diego, and my dad lived in Maui. I was going to go visit him again and said “I just broke up with my girlfriend, I’m 21, I need a change, maybe I’ll look to work in Hawaii”. I went to Hawaii and interviewed at a couple places, but didn’t really feel it. And then I asked around, and everyone said you should try Roy’s.

When I interviewed with him, I just liked what he was about. I liked the restaurant. I saw the food and was like, “damn, this looks good”. I never really knew where it would take me, but I knew it was different and wanted I wanted to learn. I said I’ll take the job, went back home, packed up, and within two weeks was in Hawaii.


IE: When is TAG Raw Bar opening up?

TG: We think the second week of February we should be open. People are like, “it’s oysters, it’s sushi”. Yeah, it’s that, but also I want to be creative. I want to get fresh hearts of palm from Hawaii and make a dish with that. I want to get fresh vegetables from Colorado and do cool stuff. It’s going to be really different, very cool, fresh, tasty, healthy for you – just trying to do something new and different.


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

TG: I like to cook on high heat.  Let’s say you’re going to cook eggs, a piece of chicken, or meat – that particular item cools down the pan a lot – especially at home. So I always start off on high, and then I can turn it down. When I throw it in, shit splatters. It’s hot. I  want a nice sear on it, and I like to cook fast. I don’t like to cook slow, because it steams it – it’s not good. I like to cook on higher heat on sauté. When you start to see it smoking, that’s when I throw in fresh vegetables and sauté them.


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

TG: My favorite spot is called Da Lat. It’s on Federal. I’ve been going there for nine years. I love the lettuce wraps – pork, chicken, fried noodles, shrimp. It’s just so fresh, so healthy. We always go there, Leigh loves it, my 15 year old loves it, and my 15 month old loves it.


Interviewing Chef Troy Guard was truly amazing. I tried to contain my beaming excitement for getting a chance to chat with him, but I’m pretty sure I came off as a giddy school kid. Either way, it was so great to talk to a Chef who’s not full of himself. He is down to earth, and makes you feel like you’re just talking with a buddy. In fact, somehow bits of my life came up in the interview, when they rightfully had no place. But I was so comfortable in the conversation,  that it just came out.  I had to shorten Chef Guard’s answers to the questions for readability, but you can listen to the full interview below.

If you haven’t been yet, head down to TAG (1441 Larimer). The food is wonderful, and the atmosphere is that of a trendy, relaxed, downtown vibe. While it can get a little pricey, they do offer daily lunch deal called the “Liquid Lunch” that includes a special lunch entree and a cocktail or beer to accompany it – all for $10.

In closing, Chef Troy Guard is really an impressive guy, Chef, and restaurateur, and the city of Denver is lucky to have him here.
Troy Guard Interview by indieeats