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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014

Playing With My Food

Posted Monday, May 12, 2008, at 8:46 AM

I love food. Mind you, I don't recall loving food my entire life. I was raised with good old home cooking, much like all of us here locally, but I didn't really start loving food until I had my first taste of Mexican food at La Hacienda, an old hotel located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My taste buds were assaulted by some spicing foreign to my midwestern palate. There were tortilla chips doused with this kicked-up ketchup known as "salsa", enchiladas filled with chicken and cheese, and a delicacy known as a sopaipilla, the heavenly concoction composed largely of the marriage of lard, sweet dough, cinnamon, and honey. It was a thoroughly enlightening experience.

My mother harkened from southeast Nebraska/northeast Kansas, my father from Oklahoma City. I grew up with the occasional grit and biscuit from the Okie influence, and the meat and potatoes standard in the Fairbury (and our) region. My father was relegated to Japan during the Korean conflict, so periodic inclusions to our diet of exotic rice crackers (seaweed- and soy-flavored) and rarely, sukiyaki, were present. Imagine the fire of a jalapeno or the complexity of a good chile powder assaulting such a sheltered tongue. I was hooked for life.

Later, a transcendent long lunch, al fresco, in a French-styled café in Larimer Square in Denver framed my point of reference of what dining should be. Granted, the willowy blonde and the white wine contributed mightily to the enjoyment of the moment, but the sense of relaxation and appeal to the senses forever colored my notion of what constituted "fine dining".

My experience with food service has been lifelong. During high school, I filled in for my buddy at his dishwashing job at a luncheonette at Woolworth's initially--then when Nebraska lowered the legal drinking age from 21 to 19, I worked at a pub/dance hall that featured grilled sandwiches. I moved to California and was hired as a bartender at a white-tablecloth dinner house known as the "Velvet Turtle". I became the Bar Manager, then the Banquet Manager, while there. While becoming familiar with the faux-French cuisine that was de rigeur for dinner houses then, I ate with and learned the food of the predominantly Hispanic kitchen staff.

Later, I moved to Denver, and worked for Marriott Hotels and May D & F in their fine dining restaurants. I helped transition Howard Johnson's roadside eateries into Marriott properties when HoJo's was acquired by the hotel chain. I wrote menus for and entertained celebrities in downtown Denver's finest hotel restaurant. I helped open and manage three art deco-influenced establishments inside the upscale May stores (never mind the thinking that produced the concept of dining in a department store).

I ran arguably Denver's oldest, best-known Mexican restaurant, as well as the ill-fated 94th Aero Squadron, positioned next to Stapleton Airport's runways (it burned down). I managed the food service of a 225-resident assisted-living center. I purchased two million dollars worth of food annually for another venerable Denver institution. I conceived, constructed, and executed my own little eatery in Oberlin. I still do catered events.

All this to say--I believe I know food. I love pleasing people by presenting them titillating palate pleasers. I love to discuss cuisine, where our food originates, how to make any particular dish, and what has worked for me in the past. I will entertain any questions, comments, or ideas anyone may have about food, dining, where to eat, and what to eat. Feel free to ask away! What are you hungry for?

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

In your opinion, where would you go to eat good Chinese and Mexican food? The closer the better. Also where is the best fried chicken served?

-- Posted by Pigman1 on Mon, May 12, 2008, at 11:40 AM

Mr Pigman,

As I'm sure you're aware, there is a paucity of good Chinese, Mexican, or for that matter, any ethnic restaurants in our immediate area.

Individual tastes are as diverse as political or religious views. With that caveat, I offer the following: In North Platte I discovered a Mexican place I considered authentic, but upon scrutinizing the phone book, it appears to have vanished. No help there. Where have you been for Mexican food?

As far as Chinese, the only places I have returned to are buffet places in Colby and Hays, KS. Not much help there.

For fried chicken, the local 24-hour restaurant offers a Sunday noon special of pan-fried chicken that reminds me of Grandma's, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. You probably already knew that.

Sorry, Pigman--let me know if you scare up some good places to visit.

-- Posted by stevestacy on Wed, May 14, 2008, at 7:24 AM

the good life here in mccook is a great chinese food resturant reasonable prices and bountiful amounts, it is a favorite place to eat for me and my friends, in fact one of my friends is a "regular" it is the one in the castle. mexican food i have no idea, nor do i have a clue on the fried chicken.

-- Posted by billybobi on Wed, May 14, 2008, at 9:30 AM

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Playing with My Food
Steve Stacy
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