Technology with attitude

An interview with Denver's Chef Eric Chiappetta

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Denver Chef Eric Chiappetta has been in the food and wine industries for about 20 years.  His first restaurant opened in the swanky Cherry Creek North district; aptly named “3rd Avenue Eclectic Burgers & Cuisine“, and was reviewed favorably by the critics and the food community at large.  After opening another restaurant in Parker, Colorado and consulting on numerous other projects, Eric took a break from behind the knife and pursued his love of wine, receiving his Certification for Beverage Professionals.  He also started Bombshell BBQ, a Colorado BBQ sauce, in 2004.  Eric’s latest venture, the delicious Larimer Hot House, combines his love of food, wine, and entertaining.

Chef Eric recently took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few interview questions, in order to shed some light on his background, his style, and his thoughts on the Denver culinary culture.

-Can you describe your background?
“I’m a native of Colorado.  So I did a lot of skiing and outdoorsy things when I was younger. I played a lot of sports and sang in a metal band in my teens and 20’s.  I really thought that was going to be my career choice. This industry has many parallels to the music scene.  I’ve been in the food business close to 20 years now.  Several of them spent in an family run Italian restaurant in Littleton.  I decided to attend culinary school in 1996 and graduated in 1997. I really wanted a degree, and it enabled me to see what the business side of the industry looked like. I worked for the Palace Arms in the Brown Palace Hotel and on to the Aubergine Cafe where I stayed until graduation. I learned more about food from Sean Kelly (Aubergine’s chef/owner) than from anyone else since. I sold wine professionally a couple years ago – that really opened my eyes to what food and wine could be.”

-What really made you want to become a chef?
“I actually just wanted to learn how to throw pizzas. The Italian restaurant I went to work for taught me that and more. I really felt I belonged in this business – the more I look back on my personal history, I see food in every part of my life. My mom is a great cook and we have a huge family – so everyone participates in the meal.

Where did you receive your training?
“The Colorado Institute of Art – School of Culinary Arts”

-If there was ONE word to describe your cooking style, what would it be, and why?
“BIG – I just don’t get off on subtlety. Fine dining is my background but it’s rare that I cook like that for myself or others. I’m glad that I have the skill to cook like that – I just cook like my personality – BIG.”

-What sort of cultures have influenced your cooking style?
“1) French – Technique is EVERYTHING!!!
2) Italian – The rustic and primal nature of Italian cooking means so much to me.  I’m Italian, so I feel an obvious closeness to the cuisine.
3) Mexican – I love to cook Mexican. Especially in the summer – it’s so nice to cook simply.  But simply has never meant dumb.  Mexican food done right is some of the most refined food on the planet.”

-How would you describe the Larimer Hot House experience to someone who has never been?
“We’re a bit surprising. We set up shop on a not-so-very-used part of old Larimer Street – so people are generally surprised by how clean and put together our dining room is.  But all in all – we are a sandwich shop that happens to do the best breakfast burritos in the world. We’re NOT a gourmet-gastro pub-fine dining bistro-foam infused-aioli-bullshit restaurant. We do the best food we can do with the best service we can provide. My partner Jen Reyna is the best front of the house manager I’ve ever worked with – and our customers come back for her as much as for me and the food. We do everything from scratch – the pickles, the three kinds of potato chips, the Krispy treats, the giardiniera, the BBQ sauces – everything. You’d be surprised how far technique can take you in a sandwich shop.”

-What is your personal favorite food that you have on the menu?
“Right now it’s got to be the Chicago Roast Beast or the meatloaf sliders – we end up doing a special sandwich for the week, and it keeps getting thrown on the menu. I’m usually not a trendy ‘Sliders’ kind of guy – but they are really good. Three traditional mom’s-style meatloaf sliders topped with caramelized red onions and smoky chipotle ketchup on egg buns.”

-If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
“A friggin’ rock star!!!  I really want David Letterman’s job or Charlie Rose’s – his show is the best.”

-There has been a huge surge in the “green” movement these days.  What steps do you take at your restaurant in order to “stay green”?
“We give all of our organic material to our neighbors. They have a composting site and they grow vegetables for people that are in transition. They work the garden and sell and eat what they produce. But as a small business, it forces you to be responsible. We don’t waste anything here.”

-What is your favorite thing about Denver’s culinary scene?  What do you think needs to change?
“I’m actually glad that there’s some real conversation going on among chefs in Denver.  It wasn’t like that 10 years ago.  Everyone was so competitive and secretive about their knowledge.  No one was creating anything new here – everyone was really being too safe.  It may have just been my experience – but that’s how I saw it.  I really see a lot of restaurants going back to basics and showing the world how good of ‘cooks’ they are.  Not showing us what kind of bullshit infused crap they can get away with.  That’s not cooking – it’s hiding.  But i’m glad that there is some real knowledge sharing going on.  Not just cooking styles being shared, but wine, business…everything.”

Many thanks to Chef Eric Chiappetta for giving us food lovers a look “behind the curtain”, and for his insights on the Denver culinary scene!

Be sure to check out the Larimer Hot House located in Denver’s historical 5 Points neighborhood.

Larimer Hot House
Monday – Friday from 7 AM – 3:30 PM
Saturdays from 9 AM – 1 PM
2810 Larimer Street
Denver, CO 80205