There are a few chefs in Denver that are synonymous with amazing food, and Chef Justin Cucci is one of them. His two restaurants, Root Down and Linger, are incredible additions to the city of Denver, but there's more to Justin. Aside from owning and cooking at these two restaurants, he is a very musically oriented person as well. While some of you may think that running two restaurants is enough for one person, it's not the case here. Chef Cucci also moonlights as the guitarist for local band, The Chest Rockwell Band.

When I landed the opportunity to sit down with him, I was obviously really excited. As some of you may know, I do a lot of work with The Music Ninja. Food and music naturally go together in my mind, and I knew Chef Cucci was the same way. So without keeping you much longer, I'll let you experience what I mean. Here's my interview with Chef/Lead Guitarist Justin Cucci.

IE: What came first in life, the love for music or the love for cooking?

JC: Probably music. That's the first love.

IE: Do you listen to music while you cook?

JC: No. I like to be immersed in what I'm doing. I feel like when I'm cooking, I want to focus on what I'm cooking. When I'm listening to music, I want to be in it. I like being fully immersed in it.

IE: Name your top three songs you're listening to right now.

JC:  Escort – Cocaine – it's an amazingly catchy, hook song. It's disco, funk and it's new – so it's really fresh.

Prince – Uptown – I'm in a Prince - Dirty Mind phase.

Bill Withers – Kissing My Love – I love how simple he is, and how funky he is with an acoustic guitar. He never overdoes it.

IE: If your cooking style was a genre of music, what would it be?

JC: Wow. It would definitely be a mashup. It couldn't be one style of music. It would be like a jazz funk.

IE: Alright, on the flip side of that – if the music you played were a type of cuisine or food what would it be?

JC: Oh shit. Oh my god. That is an impossible question. It would probably be street food. Kind of a really accessible bastardization of culture and food put into music. I don't even know if that makes sense.

IE: (Laughing from the previous response) Tell us about the Chest Rockwell Band.

JC: It came because each year we have a Christmas party, and we have this amazing opportunity to have 150 staff members as a captive audience. I put a Craigslist ad together, two years ago, and hired a bunch of musicians just thinking it would be a one-off. We did it - played about three hours. It worked so good that I hired the same guys this year, and added two female singers, a percussionist and a keyboardist. It's an eight piece band.

I love this incarnation, because it's just music to go have a great time to. It's funky, disco, hip hop, soul, 80's, and some Grateful Dead. To me, it's like all shit that's really loose and really fun. I just wanted a busy, fun experience and music that would fit that.

IE: Good drinking music?

Yes. Get girls there – they like disco, they like 80's, they like to dance. If we can do that and get the girls there, guys will follow. I feel like both my restaurants cater towards women, and the guys follow. Or not. And if not, then it's all women. Which is fine.

IE: If you could open for any band, who would it be?

JC: Oh shit. Fuckin A. It would probably be Escort because I think that whole album is bomb. Even though those guys are more DJs.

Right now, existing bands? Little Dragon. I love Little Dragon. 

Or even though I don't like what he does now, Beck. I love Midnight Vultures, and Mutations. I love that era. If I could open for that era Beck, that would be cool.

IE: (Again, laughing from the previous response) And if you could cook for any band, who would it be?

JC: Steely Dan. I love their New York sensibility. There's so many layers – I love that people associate them with elevator music. I'm like, "yeah, but the song you heard in the elevator was about incest and drug addiction. You just didn't know it because their hooks and melodies, and they craft it so well."

Whenever I hear a Steely Dan song, their music tells one story, and their lyrics tell another. In food, I want multiple stories going on. Whether it's the culture of the food tells one story, and the texture, or color tells another story. They have such a contradictory relationship between their words and their music.

 

After reading that, you can tell that we had a good time. Chef Cucci was down to earth, raw and damn funny.

Most of the time, I'm leaving you with one request – go check out this restaurant. Well this time, it's a little different. You should still check out Linger and Root Down, as they are two of Denver foodies most beloved gems. But I'm also going to throw something else out there – this Saturday, head down to the Three Kings (60 S. Broadway) and check out Chef Cucci and the Chest Rockwell band, at 10 p.m. It's St. Patty's day, and you know you'll be out. So stop by and hear some fun, dancy, locally based tunes.