Chefs from some of Boulder’s most popular restaurants seem to agree that when it comes to cooking at home, the only rules required are simplicity and good, fresh ingredients.
Take Steve Redzikowski, executive chef at Oak at Fourteenth, for example. From freshly made pasta to basic quesadillas, his philosophy proves that cooking a proper meal at home doesn’t need to be complicated.
“I like to eat super simple. Roasted potatoes, onions, creamed corn … really easy, simple stuff. I’m not into anything too over-the-top,” says Redzikowski. “Just start with nice ingredients and kind of let them just speak for themselves.”
When at work, Redzikowski doesn’t always have time to make any sort of meal — for himself, that is — but he does often rely on a very simple sandwich he makes with sliced tomato, basil, olive oil and sea salt on a house-made baguette.
David Engel, executive chef at The Sink, shares a similar philosophy.
“For the most part, I try to keep it really simple, but it’s mostly all about who you’re cooking for,” says Engel. “There are also times too, like if I’m going to have friends come over and I’ll actually do some recipe testing, things that I might possibly be thinking about running as a special.”
David Engel | Photo by Hayley Proctor
Engel mostly enjoys making soups both at the restaurant and at home, but the soups made at home tend to be a little less extravagant.
“When I’m cooking at home, I tend to do simpler soups,” he says. “Chicken noodle, vegetable soups and chili. Chili’s a big one around the house. You can’t beat a nice big bowl of chili with some crusty bread on a cold winter day.”
Making the best meal at home isn’t always just a matter of simplicity. Another important factor is the ingredients. Every chef knows just how important it is to get the ingredients right, and it all starts with where they are purchased. At home, some even prefer to raise their own.
“I like to use whatever the garden gives me,” says Alberto Sabbadini, executive chef at The Kitchen. “If you have fresh produce, it doesn’t need too much. Just let nature give it its flavor.”
Alberto Sabbadini | Photo by Hayley Proctor
For those without a garden, there are plenty of other places around Boulder to find the best meat and produce, such as local farmers’ markets and butchers.
“My first suggestion would be to hit up the local farmers’ markets for produce,” Engel says. “It supports our local farmers and our local economy. As far as meat-buying goes, if you can find a local butcher nearby, especially one that works with local ranches, that would be my first recommendation.”
Besides local seasonal markets, some chefs suggest going to Whole Foods, Alfalfa’s, Sprouts and similar stores to get quality ingredients for cooking at home. For tighter budgets, King Soopers and Safeway aren’t to be ruled out, but may not have as large of a selection.
For fish lovers, another great resource would be local fish markets such as the Longmont Fish Market or the Seattle Fish Co. in Denver.
While these chefs agree that simplicity and prized ingredients are of utmost importance when cooking at home, they certainly do have their differences. The types of food these chefs enjoy range from braised meat to dried squid and mangosteen.
“Besides soup, I like pretty much anything pork,” Engel says. “Braising is probably one of my favorite cooking techniques. It’s definitely one of the older styles of cooking, but when you execute it properly, it just makes a phenomenal product.”
Basic barbecue is also a favorite of Oak’s Redzikowski, but he is mostly a fan of Italian food. He even shared some useful tips on how to make sure there’s always fresh pasta readily available at home.
“Freshly made pasta is awesome,” he says. “We always make it here, but typically at the house it’s not something you always do, so I’ll make a big batch of it and freeze it in packets and put them in Ziploc bags. Then I can just take them out, cook them for two minutes and it’s done. Even though you freeze it, it doesn’t really change it too much. It still tastes like fresh pasta. You definitely see a world of difference, and you only have to do that once a month or once every two weeks.”
Redzikowski also adds that making pasta is not that time-consuming and is really simple to do with just a basic pasta recipe. Hand-crank pasta machines are available at specialty cooking shops around Boulder, and usually cost between $30 and $40.
While simple dishes appear to be the key for most of the chefs, that can’t be said for them all. Alex Krill, executive chef at Salt, prefers exploring Asian markets, just to try something a little different.
Alex Krill | Photo by Hayley Proctor
“Going to the Asian market is my favorite place in the world because there are so many crazy things there that I’ve never seen before, that I’ve always wanted to work with, that I can’t work with because I can’t get them anywhere else,” Krill says. “Weird dried squids and stuff like that, I mean stuff that you never see in America, you can find at an Asian market. I actually found these things called mangosteens the last time I was there. It was unreal. I’ve never seen a fresh one in the States before.”
Small differences aside, the basic lesson seems to be that being a great chef doesn’t necessarily make complex meals at home the norm. Sticking to simple recipes and making sure the ingredients are fresh and come from the right place is all they need to make a respectable, home-cooked meal.