Great chefs are artists.
This is why we typically revere them.
They create art with food, and we get to eat that art.
You can’t do that with a Picasso.
I asked John DePierro, Executive Chef at Bones – a celebrated Denver restaurant – his take on creativity and how it influences the way he works.
On the notoriously small space he and his staff work out of, John says, “People think we have a magic kitchen downstairs or upstairs. They can’t believe we do what we do on the line they see in our open kitchen at Bones.”
It’s a sign of ingenuity – which is a big element of creativity – to be able to work with what you’re given, and have it attain self-generated standards of excellence.
“I can really be an intolerable person when the food’s not right”, he says.
He has a tight-knit group working with him, including his Sous Chef, Michael Nevarez, or Sweet Michael, as he’s called.
Together, along with owner Frank Bonanno, they conceptualized a fifth anniversary dinner that was stunning in its presentation and taste.
The 7-course dining extravaganza was filled with countless creative choices and artistic touches that made it mindful and memorable.
From the Bo Ssam served on a platter with bamboo steamer basket, in a do-it-yourself, interactive style – to the foie gras torchon served in an Asian sardine tin, sided with perfectly crisp toasts on which to spread it – the chefs allowed themselves playfulness alongside their discipline, which allowed us, as the guests, to have more joy in the experience than we otherwise would have.
I’ve already written about this splendid creativity, of which you can read more here:
I eat out a lot and it was the single most definitive dining experience I had in 2013.
But, that was one night, albeit one very special night.
What goes on there on an average, say, Wednesday night?
Last year, John boldly and publicly proclaimed his goal was to get Bones into a coveted spot in 5280 Magazine’s annual Top 25 Restaurants list.
What has resulted from that goal, is a kitchen putting out such exciting food as Confit Octopus with squid ink splattered plating.
Wagyu with sous vide turnip, Easter egg radish, black sesame puree and tamarind vinaigrette.
Roasted Bone Marrow with gremolata, seasonal jam and crostini.
These are the level of dishes you’d expect at a fine dining, white-tableclothed restaurant, not an unassuming noodle house.
And even the noodles have a level of excellence in their conception – lobster with a beurre blanc broth; brisket [!].
The expected Potstickers are a menu staple, but with the absolutely unexpected filling of escargot.
John and Michael at Bones are proving that environment doesn’t dictate result, and if anything, the diner is more wowed and impressed when this kind of delight comes from a place they just anticipated getting a great bowl of ramen.
When I ask John how he’s able to keep the unsavory arrogance and ego, so sadly associated with some chefs, at bay, he tells me it’s because he knows he’s lucky to be there; that he has such gratitude and appreciation for that.
“I just want to cook and be happy”.
Great chefs are artists.