In the Kitchen with Olav Peterson from Bistro One

May 18th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, Denver, restaurants No Comment yet

It starts with coffee, a workout and some time with Jackson, his bulldog. Then it’s off to Bistro One, a modernized version of a classic bistro on Broadway to start baking the bread for service that day. Olav is the first chef there in the mornings, sometimes at noon and sometimes as early as 7:30am depending on what service looks like for the day. He believes that everything he serves should be made in house including his bread, pastries, ice cream, cured meats and pasta. “You don’t go out and purchase your bread or your desserts. Being a good chef is making everything in house,” says Olav.

Pasta is usually next on the prep list, then comes sauces and finally getting “mise” ready in time for dinner. Mise en place, literally meaning put in place is an incredibly important job for a cook. No one wants to run out of diced onions, garnishes or anything else in the midst of a busy service.

In the middle of the day Olav checks on his garden. Bistro One has a greenhouse on the roof. When it gets warmer Olav will get out the kiddy swimming pools and plant more as space allows. Right now his tomatoes have broken the surface, he has frisee, radishes and squash coming up. “The roof is real estate,” says Olav. “Growing my own vegetables is another aspect of cooking. I think we tend to care more about something we made and grew ourselves.”

Olav changes the menu seasonally at Bistro One, usually every three months. Does Olav have a favorite season to cook in? “Not really. By the time we get to the end of February we’re tired of braising meats. It’s almost as though you get bored with the produce and techniques of each season. It’s like looking forward to wearing your favorite sweater in the fall and then as winter draws to an end looking forward to wearing shorts and sunglasses.”

Olav cooks on the line with his crew every day. He keeps track of what’s going on or expediting, as it is known in kitchens from the sauté station. The Bistro One kitchen is run like this. There are 3 cooks on the line and one dishwasher who helps with prep. There are three stations, grill, sauté and pantry. Olav believes in small crews; crews that are dedicated cooks. His kitchen is a brotherhood. It’s his practice when he hires a new cook that the crew has to agree on who gets the job. “They are a bunch of rowdy boys. Everyone needs to get along,” says Olav.

In the beginning of his career Olav says he had to learn to be a leader and how to hold people accountable. “Administration is harder than cooking. I have to motivate people everyday. “

Does Olav have any rules or standards in his kitchen? “Poisoning someone is off limits. If we make a mistake that’s ok, just don’t hide it. By having an honest approach to your work then we can believe and trust in one another. “

Bistro One opens its doors at 4:00 pm for happy hour. Tickets slowly start rolling in. The kitchen goes from the calm of pre-service to controlled chaos; although sometimes pre-service is anything but calm. “I’m in the shits,” says Olav on the day I came to take pictures of his line. Also known as “being in the weeds” this is kitchen talk for I’m really behind and if I don’t catch up it’s going to be a bad night.

In the middle of service is there time to taste each plate? “I try to taste every dish that leaves my kitchen. But if I can’t I can usually tell if a dish is where it needs to be just by using my sense of smell and hearing. “

Speaking more about seasoning Olav tells me that his cured meats are perfectly seasoned at the end of the curing process. Olav is currently making pancetta, pastrami, bacon, corned beef and dry cured pork confit. “Curing meats is about controlling flavor as the meats are marinated. It is a long technique but by the time they are finished the flavors are there.” The salmon pastrami the kitchen makes is proof that Olav is right. Served on caraway puff pastry with choucroute and tomato caper vinaigrette it is delicious and Olav doesn’t have to finish it with salt.

At the end of the night the cooks clean the kitchen. Everything is polished and wiped down. If the restaurant has achieved at least $5,000 in sales the line cooks are treated to a cold beer, otherwise known as a staff drink. Olav typically drinks whiskey at the end of the night and then heads for home to his lovely wife. “She’s very understanding about my hours,” he says.

“Earlier in my career I wanted to reinvent the wheel, but then I realized that there is more history in the classics of cuisine. People will experiment but they go back to the classics. The other day I was reading a dessert menu and there was lobster wasabi brandy ice cream, which is interesting, but it doesn’t evoke emotion. Part of making good food is the ability to evoke emotion in the diner, to make them remember something. “

At the end of the day or night as it were Olav says, “I’m just a cook. I believe in what we’re doing. There is a lot of emotion in this restaurant. “ Having just had dinner at Bistro One I have to agree with Olav. There is a lot of love that goes into his classic cuisine and it comes out on the plate. For more information about Bistro One please click here.

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