Gotta love side jobs–especially side jobs like guest blogging for Indie Eats on a night when I get to go to the Botanic Gardens and enjoy myself in the name of a good cause. I'm not much of a charity function guy, but this event made me want to give more of my funds to We Don't Waste. And, if I can humble-brag for a second, I did indeed open my wallet for this cause!
 
 
 
 
The "Fill a Plate for the Hungry" event, put on by non profit We Don't Waste, is one of the most enjoyable ways I can think of to give to a worthy non profit. For those of you that don't know, We Don't Waste partners with Denver area restaurants in order to take their unused foods and donate them local food shelters. Anyone who has done time (as I affectionately put it) in the restaurant world knows, there's a ton of perfectly good food that goes to waste nightly in any restaurant that could be used to benefit some of our needy Denverites. We Don't Waste endeavors, through a rather complex pick up/delivery system, to relieve restaurants of their unused food and put it to work filling bellies. So it was with gusto that I participated in this function and the food and drinks did not disappoint! 
 
 
The evening began in the Botanical gardens with bars and restaurants serving cocktails. I was delighted to see my friends from Central Bistro (insert link) serving bourbon themed cocktails and exposing the generous patrons to some free educational talks on the delicious brown liquor that Indie Eats loves so dearly. Also notable was a mystery wine purchase: basically, patrons paid $25 for a bottle of wine gift wrapped–the trick was that the bottle of wine could be a $25 dollar bottle or a $250 bottle. Kinda like Christmas but without the lame sweater. We ended up with a nice Shiraz with the proceeds going to the local shelters.
 
 
 
The main event was dinner, which both my date and I felt was impressive. Hosting the event was some big name restaurants: Tomayo, Russell's Smoke House, TAG, The Palm and Ted's Montana Grill were among those  featured. Sadly, my stomach capacity barred me from sampling everything, but my favorite dish came from Tomayo, which featured some top notch tamales. I wish I would have been able to pay more attention to the cuisine, but the presentations and auction stole the show! The attendees were treated to a powerful presentation on how We Do Waste works in the Mile High City, followed by an auction in which one prize was to have Mr. Troy Guard prepare a dinner meal for you and five guests. 
 
Sadly, my meager earnings as a free lance writer put me right out of contention for bidding on that biggy. But hey, it gives me a goal for next year!  
 
I'll be looking forward to future events put on by We Don't Waste and would definitely encourage our readers to do the same. It's a great way give to your fellow man and have a wonderful experience in the process. 
 
A servant

 

One thing I love about the Denver food community is it's willingness to come together for a great cause. As you already know, I recently attented the Denver Burger Battle, a charitable event that benefits the Kossler Foundation. Today I have the absolute pleasure of sharing the news about Fill Plate for Hunger.

This event, which is backed by Denver's Union Station project, is set to take place in the Denver Botanical Gardens. Hopefully the weather has cleared out by Wednesday, but if it hasn't, I'm sure the setting will still be nothing short of spectacular. After having been to a few events there, I can assure you that it's quite the backdrop for something like this. Not only is the location something to revel, the spread will be top notch as well. Who's chipped in to serve up small plates of Denver goodness? Well, there's a few names you might recognize on the list, including: Billy’s Inn, Bistro Vendome, Corridor 44, Cru Wine Bar, LoHi Steakbar, Marco’s Coal Fired Pizzeria, Oceanaire, Ocean Prime, The Palm, Russell’s Smokehouse, Snooze, TAG, Tamayo and Ted’s Montana Grill. On top of all that, Central Bistro is providing the event’s whiskey tasting station. You might know by now that I have quite the affinity for that brown liquor, so you can safely assume I'll be spending ample time there.

Aside from the food, the amazing silent auction, and the events other notable sponsors, this event is really about benefiting an amazing orgainzation, We Dont Waste, an innovative provider of food for the hungry. If you're not familiar with the organization, take some time to get to know them. They're doing something much more creative than canned food drives. Check the video below to learn all about their incredible vision.

Ticket to this event are still on sale, and can be purchased at  Blacktie Colorado. The event code is Plate918. Make sure to buy your tickets now, as they are close to selling out. For more info on tickets, please visit WeDontWaste.org

While you may think it's taken me this long to get over my meat-induced coma, you're actually incorrect. It did take a few days to regain normal vision from my beefy euphoria, but unfortunately, I just haven't had the time to sit down and tell you about my experience at Denver's best food event, the Denver Burger Battle. Until now.

This time around, the DBB hosted their annual bun-encased event at a new location. For this night, the founders, Jeremy and Kelly Kossler, selected the park underneath the dancing aliens. While I was slightly disappointed based on the previous year’s location (which was at Sports Authority Field), I knew it was simply because I bleed orange and blue and I shouldn't put too much thought into it. When I arrived at the park and started to experience this event at the location it was being held at, I immediately changed my mind about its vibe. Gone are the empty seats leering over me, along with the strange plastic grating that protected the field. This wasn't a downgrade from the previous location; it was an upgrade.

The closed-in location underneath the dancing aliens provided a close-knit group of burger-loving patrons, all smiling ear-to-ear, embracing the wonderful evening that laid ahead of them. This year I asked my parents to come with me and couldn't help but smirk seeing them beaming with excitement as we walked in.

I'll spare you the painful details of each meticulous bite and offer up a few awards of my own. While the judges and the attendees were the official judges for the night, I'd like to provide you with these completely made-up accolades.

The Burger I Would Drive 45 Minutes to Eat

I have to admit something. It's a bit of a shameful secret, but I'm going to let you in on it. Aside from previous Burger Battles, I have never eaten at Crave. I loved each of their selections the past three years, but the thought of driving down to Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, or Colorado Springs to grab a burger has never crossed my mind. However, this year's selection of Crave's "Sin City" burger had me wishing I had made the trip.

Spicy candied bacon flirted with the bourbon glazed onions in a way that made you miss your family's classic BBQ's where Grandpa had too much Jim Beam. However, as nostalgic as that was, the tempura fried cheese was definitely the kicker on this creation. Soft, melty white cheddar oozed all over our quarter selections of burger, enticing us to eat each and every last bite. And we did.
 

 

The Burger From the Restaurant That I Knew Nothing About, But Am Kicking Myself For Not Knowing About Earlier

Ok, that's a ridiculously long title for an award, but as you know, I'm not your cookie-cutter food reviewer. Let me just tell you this: Juicy Burgers and Dogs is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the patty-shaped ground beef game. They featured a little taste of Colorado with roasted green chiles, pepperjack cheese, sauteed mushrooms, crispy onion strings, and chipotle aioli. The end result was a perfect blend of soft, crispy, melty, and spicy. It's a burger that any Coloradan would be proud to order on any given day.
 

 

The Burger I Wish Had Been Cooked a Little Bit More Because It Tasted So Good

Park Burger had its praises sung by winning the judges' choice. I was right along with them in the choir, chiming in about the Harris Ranch beef, provolone, crispy pancetta, and truffled garlic aioli. Call me an old-school Dago at heart, but this burger had a firm grasp on my taste buds. The only thing that turned me off was the undercooked beef.

I know these restaurants are hustling out ridiculous amounts of food, and I completely understand the fact that they have to rush in order to feed hungry mouths. I just wish I could have had a section that was slightly more cooked, so I could experience the entire package of greatness that was "The Scarpone."
 

 

The Burger That Was Simple, Yet Wonderful.

I had never heard of Grind from Glenwood, but after eating some of their Crystal River beef, I was more than sold. This mountain eatery gets all of their grass-fed and finished beef from a ranch nearby in Glenwood Springs. They take the time to grind all of the beef themselves, ensuring the freshness from start to finish. Accompanying what I thought was the best-tasting patty in the competition was pure simplicity. The "All American," as they called it, had what most of us are used to: American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion, ketchup, mustard and mayo. It was a taste of Americana that truly stood out.

 

At the end of the night, bloated and blissfully content with what had just gone down, we couldn't help but talk about this event. The experience as a whole is very well orchestrated. We're not sure if the founders have any event planning experience in their past, but if they don't, they certainly have gotten themselves up to speed. Every detail was well thought out, providing each attendee with a flawless, grin-inducing, joyful experience.

Aside from what we experienced, it's hard to ignore what this is all for—not only did we have an unforgettable evening, but we also were supporting the Kosslers' foundation, which this year is focusing on Rocky Mountain youth clinics that help give kids medical care when they don't have insurance.

If you didn't make it out to the Burger Battle or you feel like this isn't really your event (which could only mean you're a vegetarian or vegan), you can still help out the foundation by donating your time or money. I highly encourage you do. Please contact them at  contact@denverburgerbattle.com

 

 

It's almost like Christmas morning. Cancel that, it's better than Christmas morning. It's the Denver Burger Battle. If you've been following my blog for the past year or two, you'll know that this is the one food event that I go to, no matter what. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of wonderful events that support amazing and deserving causes, This just happens to be my personal favorite.

If you haven't ever been to the Burger Battle, here's how it all shakes out. You get a plate, unlimited beers, and as many quarter sections of burgers as you want. Now, these aren't just any burgers. These happen to be patties of juicy goodness from Denver's best and brightest restaurants. And don't expect just any grill jockey to be manning the booth either. You'll see faces of some of Denver's most prominent chefs hustling behind a table of meaty goodness.

Each eatery has two chances to win. They can either win your affection over and take home the People's Choice, or they can take home the Judge's Choice. This years' judge panel is no joke either, being comprised of some of Denver's finest Epicureans including: Jen Jasinski, Lon Symensma, Brandon Biederman, and Biker Jim. 

What's at stake for the restaurants, you ask? Well, aside from a spot in the annals of Denver burger greatness, Frontier Airlines will be flying the People's Choice winner to Las Vegas in November to represent Colorado in the World Food Championships. Perennial heavy hitter Crave went last year and took 6th overall out of 40 contestants!

Here's who will be throwin' down in 2013:

Parkburger

Crave (2012 People's Choice Winner)

Larkburger (2012 Judge's Choice Winner)

Highland Tap & Burger

Jax (New Contestant)

TAG Burger Bar (New Contestant)

Candlelight Tavern (New Contestant)

Linger (New Contestant)

EDGE at Four Seasons (New Contestant)

Punch Bowl Social (New Contestant)

Grind Glenwood (New Contestant)

Juicy Burgers

Aside from gorging yourself on some of the best burgers in town, you'll also be taking home some pretty nifty reminders of your gluttonous evening. Each guest will receive some impressive swag with anywhere from $10-$50 gift card to Frontier airlines, a full bottle of Elevation Ketchup (made locally), and spices from Savory Spice shop.

Tickets are just $69 and net proceeds go to the  Kossler Foundation which distributes to charities in Denver helping hunger, economic development, & child welfare. So head over to DBB's site, and grab your ticket before it's too late.

Seeing as how I've been on a mission to get out of "food blogger shape", I don't really go out for burgers anymore. While I love nothing more than taking down a hearty bacon burger, especially after a night of heavy boozing, that pile of medium rare deliciousness defeats the purpose of me going to the gym. Then again, ingesting copious amounts of calorie rich alcohol probably isn't helping me either, but you have to pick your battles, right?

With that being said, there's no event I get more excited for all year than the Denver Burger Battle. Last year was my first time going, and as long as I'm alive, and this event exists, I'll be in attendance. This year the Denver Burger Battle stepped their game up and switched venues. Instead of a scorching hot parking lot in the middle of downtown, this year we were lucky enough to have our grumbling stomachs grace the field of the Denver Broncos (Praise be to Elway). This in and of itself was an experience, but of course, the fun didn't stop there. 

I was lucky enough to get VIP access so I could cruise through the restaurants offerings before the large crowds started to pour in. This gave me a chance to quickly decide whose I liked best. Now, last year I shared with you my tasting notes on all of the burgers I tried. This year, I'm changing it up a little bit, and have created Indie Eats Denver Burger Battle Awards. So here's three completely made up awards that carry no clout whatsoever outside of my blog. 

The burger that I would love to eat on a Sunday after drinking: The Sink

Texas Onion Straw Burger – Provolone, Cheddar Cheese, Jalapenos, Crispy Onion Rings with Chipotle Mayo.  I love seeing the really unique burgers at the burger battle, but I also love the ones that I would see myself ordering on an average day. With my fondness for spicy foods, and spicy foods being a cure for hangovers, this was definitely one of my favs. The fresh Jalapenos were crisp, and spicy, and the freshness cut through the rich fried onions and melty cheese. While it didn't blow me away, this is something I would order on the regular.

 

 

The Burger that had so much going on, but was still amazing: Crave

The Wiseguy – Crispy Mozzarella, Prosciutto, Fresh Basil, Tomato and Onion Drizzled with Balsamic and Olive Oil. Ok, last year I loved the Daffy from Crave. Yes, their burgers have a ton of flavors going on, and they're messy as hell. Here's the thing though, they're pretty damn good. The flavors work together, and don't overcomplicate the burger. If they had a location closer than Castle Rock, I would probably be down there a lot more often.

 

 

 

The Burger that unexpectedly made my knees weak: Mateo's

Colorado Sirloin, Caramelized Onions, Herb Aioli, Gruyere.  I don't make it up to Boulder very often, but I can assure you that I will from here on out, if only to eat something from Mateo's again. This burger was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and had a perfect blend of flavor profiles. The sweet caramelized onions paired with the creamy aioli and the melty gruyere. It was simple, yet extremely sophisticated in it's execution.

 

 

Ok, so I know these awards don't have any official meaning to the Denver Burger Battle and it's attendees, but these two do. Here are the official winners of the day:

Judges Choice – Larkburger - Bacon Truffle Cheddar Burger. Truffle Aioli, Applewood Smoked Bacon and Tillamook Cheddar
People's Choice – Crave - The Wiseguy – Crispy Mozzarella, Prosciutto, Fresh Basil, Tomato and Onion Drizzled with Balsamic and Olive Oil

Once again the fine people at the Denver Burger Battle have accomplished pulling off the best food event in Denver. While I definitely encourage you try all the participating restaurants, I also encourage you to plan on going to the 2013 Burger Battle next year. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Recently I've noticed an upswing in the amount of "suggested" behaviors that servers and food professionals have graciously asked that we, the diners, take. I've read them carefully over the past few months, and after a slew of bad service experiences, I've decided to put out a helpful piece for Denver's wait staff. Let me begin by giving you my background. My very first job was in the service industry. At the young age of 15, I worked as a bus boy at the Arvada Red Robin. Being a social young lad, I knew that the service industry was where I wanted to be. All through high school I worked as a bus boy, before moving onto becoming a server.

I always enjoyed providing guests (never say customer) with amazing service. Yes there were times where I was frustrated, angry, and downright seething pissed at the sheer stupidity of the general public, but I tried to hide those feelings based on one simple notion. Those people were my paycheck, and that paycheck could choose to be spent at any number of different establishments around town.

It wasn't until college that I truly began to master my craft. I helped open a pizza joint owned by a very reputable chef, and learned from one of the best service individuals out there. I learned that a service experience is something that a lot of people don't understand. I wasn't writing orders down; I was creating an experience. I was doing things that I would enjoy had I gone out to dinner that night. Having this train of thought made me very good at what I did.

Seeing as how my college education took me 8 years (please feel free to make fun) I had the opportunity to continue what I loved on a bigger stage. I left where I was at to work for a very well known restaurateur in Cherry Creek. I won't say this person's name, or the restaurant, just know that it's a difficult place to serve. Servers were expected to turn tables quickly, while hitting a remarkably difficult number of service points. We were tested regularly from secret shoppers and let's just say the turnover rate was ridiculously high.

I hustled. I knew my wines. I knew my menu. I knew my service points. All of these resulted in one thing – a noteworthy dining experience for my guests. I took pride in what I did, and the fact that I did things by the books. Were there assholes? Of course. It's Cherry Creek. But knowing those people were my paycheck, I bit my lip and kept hustling. I carried this on for two years before being asked to interview for a position as a corporate trainer. This would essentially mean that I would travel from new opening to new opening,teaching servers how to give great experiences. I had to turn this offer down because I finally graduated college and was ready to embrace my new career. The fact remains though that I was respected highly enough to be considered for this position.

Ok, at this point I know you're wondering why I haven't really given any insight to the wait staff of Denver. Well, it's coming. Don't get your panties in a bunch.

 

 

 

Every profession deals with ridiculous complaints that are unjustified and piss you off.

This is my biggest pet peeve that I hear about from servers. "Someone sent their fish back because they thought it was medium rare instead of medium…even though the CIA trained chef in back KNOWS that it's a perfect medium." Tough shit.  You dealing with nonsensical complaints is no different than anyone else out there. Work sucks sometimes, which is why it's not called fun. Get over it. I can't count how many times I had to bite my lip as as server, but that's just what you do. I've also had to bite my lip in my current career. That's life. If you want to see really ridiculously rude people, get a government job. Of course if you did that, I'd be reading a blog on how to act appropriately at the DMV.

 

I'm your paycheck. That doesn't give me a right to be rude, but remember the fact that…well…I'm your paycheck.

Look, I know you want to get off work so you can hit up the Aesop Rock concert at Summit, but here's the deal. You're at work. This is your job. I had no prior knowledge of your plans to hotbox your car and go to a show. Had I known, I would ask for a different server that enjoys the money I'm about to give them. So if I seem a little turned off that you're trying to rush me out, don't complain about me being a dick.

 

Regardless of how I'm dressed, treat me the same as you would any other guest.

Ok, we live in Colorado. This isn't exactly Madison Avenue. Yes, I probably could benefit from shaving, and throwing on a blazer when I go out to a decent spot, but I like good food! What the hell does that even mean, you ask? Well sometimes my friends and I are out and about and want to go somewhere a little nicer, but we're not dressed the part. That doesn't mean I'm not going to drop the same amount of loot that I would had I dressed up. The last few times my friends and I were judged on how we were dressed at a nice establishment, we ended the experience at one drink and one app, when we would have racked up a decent sized bill had we been treated appropriately.. Don't judge. I've sat at Cap Grill's bar drinking Stoli Doli's in flip flops and jeans, and those guys have never even batted an eye. And they always get tipped well.

 

Don't be a lazy asshole.

One thing that drives me crazy is servers that don't go the extra mile. A truly unique and incredible service experience should be seamless. A diner should never wonder what's going on, should never ask why they don't have something they need, and they should never wish they had something additional to make their experience better. I was recently on a day-date and met a girl at a overwhelmingly popular breakfast/brunch spot. After waiting for 55 minutes for a table (the food is worth it) it then took an additional 15 minutes to get greeted. Then an additional 25 to get our food. Then an additional 7 to get silverware. That's right, as our food that we had now waited an hour and forty three minutes for got cold waiting for something to eat it with, your tip went down. Weird how that happens… Don't be a lazy asshole. It all comes back to this…I'm your paycheck. Do you want a larger paycheck or a smaller one? It's a simple concept really.

 

Think of what you would want.

As a server at a nice restaurant and I'm positive you're no stranger to dining out. What pisses you off about service when you go out? Can you honestly say that it doesn't bother you when someone says, "you should hang on to your fork."  If I'm paying for a $15 dollar app, I'm almost positive that the water and electricity costs involved in washing that fork so I can have a new one is included in that price. Replacing silverware should be accepted as common practice. Don't give me your "conservation" argument either. I've seen plenty of dish racks go through the dishwasher half empty. You can easily fit a bin of silverware in that rack.  No one wants to wipe their fork in a napkin, forcing them to then have a crummy napkin in their lap. If I wanted that experience, I would go to Denny's. But I don't, which is why I come to your restaurants. So just do it already.

If you need a good case-in-point, take this story for an example. My last trip to New York I was fortunate enough to eat at Thomas Keller's per se. I know you're not dealing with the magnitude of check totals that those servers are, but bear with me. As the server brought a basket of breads, and explained all of them, I noticed there was a pretzeled roll in there. Being 3 cocktails in at this point, I jokingly asked if they had any mustard to accompany my pretzel. The server smiled and said, "Let me see what I can do."

He returned two minutes later with an array of four types of mustard, and placed it right in front of me. While I was kidding, he knew that I secretly did want some mustard, even if I was at one of the nicest joints in Manhattan. He knew that's what he would like. Think of that as you approach your tables. What would you like to experience?

 

Don't scoff at the notion that people want to split a check.

Not too long ago, my friends and I went out for Sunday Funday at a Sloan's Lake restaurant. Aside from the simple fact that I've been a server, I also know that we're in the year 2012 and that restaurants have ample technology to split tickets in a variety of ways. These programs assign items to seat numbers, making it very simple to separate items per person. If you ring things in correctly, then you can easily figure out how to separate things. If you're a lazy asshole (see above) then you probably just punched in the drinks all on seat one, because it was far simpler than actually assigning them to the individual that ordered them. This is not my fault as a guest. Yes, we should let you know every time before hand because it's polite. But the funny thing is you don't seem to care about social graces as you rack up a huge tab with my booze sales, that is, until you realize that we need it split. Then suddenly I'm the worst guest in the world for requesting the "unique" favor of splitting my bill according to what we ordered.

Don't be a lazy asshole. Ring your shit in properly and you won't have to worry about this dilemma.

 

Yes, some people have kids. You were a kid at one point, and probably acted unruly.

I get it. Kids don't spend any money. The simple fact of it is, that kids are going to come out with patrons who want to eat at somewhere other than their local pizza spot. Kids can often be unruly. This is the unfortunate thing about taking kids out to eat. But…if patrons don't take their kids out and teach them how to behave in public, then how will they ever learn? It does suck that this is on your behalf, but remember this. Those people are your paycheck. Oh! There it is again. Also, that family splitting entrees and drinking lemonades may be doing that today, but then later in the month the parents might be going out for dinner alone, and drop some cash on a bottle of Cakebread. That's the thing. This individual experience may suck, but look at the greater picture.

 

My final message to you is that being a great server is a very rewarding career. You have the ability to make people's nights amazing. Will you have to deal with a few bad apples? Yes. We all do though. It's part of life. Vent to other servers at the bar later that night. That's what I always did, and it always seemed to do the trick.  Here's the beautiful thing though, you can turn an bad apple into a smiling face. You can then turn that smiling face into a repeat customer. And after more amazing service experiences, you can then have people request your section. Amazing service = happy people. Happy people = busy restaurants. Busy restaurants = more money for you. So it's simple really. Just provide every table with a service experience you would be happy with, and in the end, you'll have more loot in your pocket to have fun with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite part about St. Patrick's Day is the food. I know it's pretty basic, but one of my all time favorite dishes is Corned Beef. I love it on sandwiches, I love it sliced, I love it just about any way it's served. My mom is part Irish, so this day is always a celebration for us – corned beef, cabbage, mashed potatoes, soda bread, and some root veggies accompanied by Black and Tans, and of course, copious amounts of Jameson.

The cynic in me wants to avoid downtown Denver all weekend long, and just celebrate with my family. But you know what? It can be a fun time. People are coming together to celebrate good times with good friends, and what better way to have fun with your friends and family, than by doing it and supporting a good cause.  This Friday, make sure you stop by Fadó Irish Pub. The pinnacle of  St Patrick's Day celebrations is this charity event on March 16, for St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

If you're not familiar with this, know that it's the world's largest volunteer-driven fundraising event for childhood cancer research. Thousands of volunteers shave their heads in solidarity of children with cancer while requesting donations of support from friends and family. Not only will monetary donations be greatly appreciated, but Fadó's will also be donating 20% of all food sales.

With all the money you'll be spending on booze, try to tuck away a little and head down on Friday. It's for a really great cause, and it will make your hangover that much better the next day.

 

 

 

 

Two weeks ago, Denver lost a really great chef, and person. My cousin, Dustin Rupoli, unfortunately passed away at the far too young age of 31. My fondest memories of Dustin are from when we were kids, and he was already showing his culinary flair. Let's be honest here, there's not too many nine year olds making breakfast for the kids at their sleep over. But Dustin was that kid. We all knew that Dustin was going to be a great Chef. When he left to go to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, we were all beaming as he was taking his first steps into a promising career. Dustin would come home for Christmas, and make incredible meals with my mom for Christmas Eve. I remember him teaching me cooking techniques, and introducing me to dishes that I had never experienced.

When he finished school, and his internships, he moved back to Denver. Here in Denver, Dustin worked at some great restaurants, including Rizo, NoRTH, and Bloom.  One of my proudest moments was when he and my mom cooked a spaghetti dinner for 2000 people at the Festival Italiano in Bel Mar. It gained so much attention that he and my mom had their red sauce recipe published in the Rocky Mountain News.

After some time, he decided that it was time for some new surroundings. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and worked at restaurants such as Radius 10, The Merchant, Barefoot Charlies, and Americo. I was able to share his success out there vicariously through what my Uncle sent via email. Our family missed having him close, but we always knew he was following his passion out in Tennessee.

Dustin returned to Denver just seven months ago, and started working at the Timberline Steakhouse. And unfortunately for him, our family, and the city of Denver, his time was too short on this earth. I'm not writing this as a tearful memorial, but as a celebration of the gifts he gave us. So if you've ever eaten at NoRTH or Bloom, or enjoyed my blog and love for food, then you've enjoyed a little bit of Dustin's passion. Please keep that with you, and keep his family in your thoughts and prayers, as you enjoy your next meal.

Buon Appetito

So as you may have read in earlier posts, I’m not a classically trained chef. I grew up in an Italian family where cooking was a part of everyday life, and that’s where I learned my fundamentals. I’ve always wanted to go to culinary school, but I also really enjoy what I do for a living as well. Either way, I decided that it was time to get some classical training. Without wanting to go into massive debt from student loans, I decided that maybe a class at Cook Street was the answer.

Cook Street is a great institution in Denver. It is an actual cooking school, where students can take accredited courses for their culinary degree. But then they also offer single classes, perfect for the at home cook, or maybe even an intriguing date night. Based on the fact that it’s an accredited cooking school, you know you’re going to be getting top notch instructors. And let me tell you, my experience was nothing less than having a highly trained, and knowledgeable chef guiding us through.

My fellow students and I started working on some snacks that the school had provided, and awkwardly engaging in social interaction. After 10 minutes our so, our Chef, Brian, came out and walked us through what we were going to be preparing for this evening. Chef Brian exuded a professorial quality that assured you of two things. One, this guy really knows his stuff. And two, he is excited to share his knowledge with you.

Now, normally I would walk you through each of the techniques, and cooking instructions that we walked through. That’s usually how I set up my recipe posts on my blog, but to be honest, Cook Street is an experience. And walking you through every detail is not going to do this experience justice. So instead, I’m going to entice you pictures, and my extensive food vocabulary. Well, my vocabulary isn’t that extensive, but I’d like to think that it is. Especially because I’m a food blogger. Wait, did I just discredit myself? I digress.

Anyways, what better way to start off a French Classic meal than with some Mussels and Frites. We steamed the mussels in a simple white wine broth, fried up some tasty french fries, and served them both with a creamy bright aioli. This dish was amazing to learn because as many times as I try making fries at home, they never turn out right. So it was really great to get a tip from a professional. Check out my artsy photo below. I think it turned out nice for being taken with an iphone.

After this course, we went into the main. Pan seared Hangar Steak Au Poivre Vert and a Cous Cous stuffed Tomato. This was one another great part of the class because we got to learn about something that every at home cook has issues with – cooking protein. It was absolutely incredible to be able to sit there and ask question after question to such a knowledgeable chef. This, in and of itself, was worth every penny.

After absolutely demolishing anything that was edible on my plate, we went up and assembled our dessert. We had previously made everything for this dish, so assembly was simple. We had a Chocolate Souffle with Raspberry Coulis and Creme Anglaise. I’m not much of a desert guy, but I will tell you that this extremely decadent and delicious. It was rich and chocolaty, but still had nice freshness to it from the coulis.

Overall, the evening was a blast. I had about 20 questions that had been bothering me for years get answered by a pro, I made delicious dishes and got to enjoy them with unlimited wine. Yes, you read that right. When you take a class at Cook Street they do wine pairings with your meal. And they always made sure your glass is full.

This is something that is truly a unique and entertaining thing to do in Denver. I know you get bored with the same routine. Dinner then a movie. Dinner then a bar. Dinner and a multi-state crime spree. Wait. That last one doesn’t apply. Anyways, this is that thing to change your routine. You have to work with a partner, so this is perfect for your next date. It would also apply to corporate events, parties, and more. And last but not least, if you just want to learn some new skills, or master a few dishes, this is the best possible way.

Classes are affordable, available, and are of every type of culinary variety you can imagine. Go to their site now, sign up, and get yourself some new cooking skills.

After getting my call to have a VIP audition on Master Chef, I was so excited for the opportunity of $250,000 and my own cookbook. I immediately put together a dish in my head, Roasted Tomato Soup with a Balsamic Vegetable, Prosciutto, and Pancetta sandwich with a whipped basil goat cheese spread. Winter always reminds me of one of my favorite childhood meals – tomato soup and BLT. So I thought this would be a fun play on the meal.

Friday night, we had friends and even some neighbors, whom we had never met, to have a trial tasting of my dish. After slow roasting the tomatoes, and 3 bottles of wine, we started eating. It was fabulous. The combination of salty pig and warm, rich tomato soup brought me back to memories of my brother and I coming in from a long hard day of playing Secret Agent in the street, only to find my favorite dinner already waiting on the table. Yes, we did watch a lot of James Bond movies as kids, and it’s a really fun game, so keep your comments to yourself. Anyways, I was sure this dish would show my culinary know-how, and also had a great story to accompany it.

Yesterday I woke up and started cooking again. I made a nice parmesan crisp to accompany the soup, and roasted the vegetables. I packaged everything meticulously, and separately, trying to prevent breaking, or smashing of any kind. With a freshly shaved face, an ironed shirt, and a shit-eating grin on my face, we made our way to the Art Institute.

Upon entering the room, I was greeted with over-bubbly TV types. The kind of people that jar you out of expectations of what a normal conversation with a sane person should be like. I went through the rigmarole of taking pictures, waving to the camera, and filling out the remaining forms. While I was waiting for my turn, I listened to stories of people traveling hundreds of miles for this opportunity, and how they had to cook in a crappy budget motel. Yeah. I drove 20 minutes and didn’t struggle any hardships on the way. This isn’t boding well for me already.

They called my name with 11 others as a VIP group. We were lead in to a separate hallway like cows being lead to slaughter. In the hallway, another jarring-social-norms personality loudly announced, “Alright this is your time to shine! Make sure we know who you are – if you’re the bitch, if you’re the funny guy, if you’re the single mom – be outspoken, be noticed!” I don’t normally cuss on my blog, but give me a fucking break. I felt like I was at a middle school mixer, awkwardly awaiting a social interaction that I didn’t really want. Wasn’t anyone here because they love to cook and feed people tasty meals?

Somewhere between the producer trying to amp us up with her rally cry, and some douche bag breaking out into song to get noticed, I realized that I might not be cut out for reality TV. But I kept smiling, because I love food. And I love watching people enjoy food that I prepared for them.

We finally got to enter the room where we would be presenting our food. This is what I was excited for. We had three minutes to put together our dishes, when they said start, we all frantically unpacked what we had worked on for hours. I was actually the last to finish plating, because I had kept all of the components separate. We were going to be interviewed by three different people – two food experts and one assistant producer. The first critic came over to my dish. She flipped over the top piece of bread on my sandwich and poked the vegetables with her fork. I think she was trying to see if they were over-cooked. She then dipped her fork into my soup for a tiny taste. I saw a big grin spread across her face followed by what seemed like a paragraph of writing on my review sheet.

She asked, “How did you prepare the soup?’

I replied,” I slow roasted the tomatoes with sage, thyme, garlic powder, salt, pepper and sugar. I sautéed garlic and onions in pancetta fat, added stock and the slow roasted tomatoes. Brought it to a boil, reduced to a simmer, and took my stick blender to it. I then added balsamic vinegar, chili flakes, heavy cream, basil, and parmesan.”

She grinned, “It’s positively wonderful.”

Woohoo! That was my first time being professionally reviewed by a “food expert”. I was elated to see her so pleased with my food. After a brief chat with the assistant casting producer, and a nod of approval from the 2nd food expert this leg of the race had come to an end. They then had the people who were moving on line up, as the others had to exit the building. My name was called and I lined up with a few other selected individuals.

We entered a room and were sat down. As we all shared toothy smiles and stories of what just happened, we had another assistant casting producer pass out food knowledge tests. I flew through the questions with ease, as they were laughable at best. I’m not really sure what their thinking was there. We then were informed we would be going into a different room to meet with more casting producers. This was the time to show our personalities. They called my name with four others, and we lined up and were lead into another room to be judged.

I was the fourth person to be interviewed. After listening to the first three peoples stories, I knew I was screwed. Here’s how their stories went.

Person 1 – Mother of three who flew into Denver today with her dish packed in her luggage. She frantically made it from DIA to casting in the nick-of-time. Great.

Person 2 – Divorced out-of-work father of two who now runs a Non-profit. Shit.

Person 3 – A middle aged woman whose near-terminal trip to the hospital brought her and her estranged husband together. Fuck!

The interview panel came to me.

One asked, “Clayton, who are you and what do you do”

I replied, “I’m Clayton Warwick, happily married to my best friend, 27 years old. I am an Account Manager at a local advertising agency.”

Cutting me off they asked, “It says here you’re a food blogger, tell us about that”

I replied, “I write a blog trying to get people to eat at independent restaurants versus going to chains, and also cook using local ingredients”

They cut me off once again and said “It was nice meeting you, thank you.”

As we walked out of the Ellis Island of Master Chef Casting, I mentally confirmed the fact that I was hosed. I battled in my mind what I could have said to make a better impression. I could have expressed hardships I’ve overcome as a way to play on the emotions of the judges. Then I remembered I’m not a manipulative douche bag.

So I didn’t make it any further than that, and to be honest, I was relieved. While I love food, having people enjoy my food, and introducing people to new flavors and experiences, reality TV isn’t for me. I don’t have a sob story, and while I have suffered hardships, I don’t feel that people need to know that. Simply put, that doesn’t affect my cooking. I cook because I love it. I love having a beautifully prepared meal on the table for my amazing wife when she gets home from work. I love having friends over – drinking too much wine, laughing, and enjoying their company over a plate of something I created. I love planning and cooking Christmas eve dinner, and seeing the beaming smiles of the people I love most as I plate their 3rd, 4th, and 5th courses.

Food to me is my gift to the people I love. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me, or routing for me to get to the next round. I want people to enjoy my food because I love to have them enjoy it. I love writing this blog, because it’s an extension of that passion. I want you to feel that same love that I share with the ones closest to me. Thanks for reading, I greatly appreciate it. Stay tuned for more recipes and restaurant reviews.