Working alone in the open kitchen at the Village Cork Samir Mohammad says he often feels like a bartender more than a chef. He says that because he is surrounded by patrons sipping wine and watching him work. I first met Samir on a Culinary Connectors South Pearl Street walking tour. He showed the group how to make fresh ricotta and his passion about food was contagious. We were all entranced just listening to him speak and watching him move effortlessly around his kitchen.
For being just 25 Samir has more life and kitchen experience than just about anyone I know. He started cooking when he was 12, dropped out of high school to work in his parent’s restaurant, enlisted in the Coast Guard because they had a “kick ass culinary school”, cooked aboard ships for several years before returning to his home town of Taos to cook at Joseph’s Table. From there he cooked in Arizona and more recently at Pesce Fresco. In fact, three days after he was hired at Pesce Fresco he was promoted to Executive Chef. Lucky for us he moved on to the Village Cork on South Pearl Street.
The Village Cork is a wine bar not recently known for having a full dinner menu. The open kitchen is tiny and has no stove or hood. I would think that service could get overwhelming but Samir says most of their customers once served a glass of wine are content to wait for their dishes. The front of the house does a great job of staggering orders so that it doesn’t get too crazy; but Samir also says that he will be looking for an apprentice soon.
How do you work in the open kitchen at the Village Cork? The space is limited and the lack of cooking tools is interesting. Obviously a gas burner is on the wish list, but at this point there are no plans to install a gas line or a hood. The kitchen works though, it doesn’t limit my menu. I just think creatively to solve problems. I took this position to make myself more humble and to take my temper down a notch.
Working at the Village Cork is the most satisfying job I have ever had. I can literally see the reaction and hear the reaction to the dishes I just made. I visit every table to be sure that everything is enjoyable and people like it. 60% of our patrons are repeat clientele. We even have some customers that come in two or three times a week now that we have a bigger menu and are serving entrees.
What’s new on your menu right now: I’m making housemade ricotta, duck prosciutto and lobster polenta fries. The fries are so popular I do at least 15 – 20 orders of those a night. Almost every table wants them.
I’m also doing a tomato salad. The tomatoes I get from a local farm. I cut them in half, season them with kosher salt, and let them sit for a couple of minutes until the juice bleeds out. I serve them with julienned asparagus, from Kiowa Organics, fresh basil and organic greens. The juice from the tomatoes makes the dressing. I like to keep things simple and let the food speak for itself.
As much as possible I like to use produce and other products from local farms – everything from quinoa, lamb, chicken and striped bass.
What inspires you? The food inspires me. I like to look at the food before I decide what I’m going to do with it and let it speak to me.
Favorite Local Restaurant/Chef: Frasca Food & Wine. Lachlan has done so much to get Colorado on the national food scene.
Favorite Kitchen Tool: Hands down tongs. You can do everything with tongs. I always have a pair in my hands.
Favorite Cookbook: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. If you can make a really good vegetarian meal then you are a really good chef. Everyone can make a protein taste good – a little salt, garlic, herbs and you’re set – but vegetables are harder. I pick up this cookbook, thumb through it and let it inspire me. There is a vegetable trio on the menu that I enjoy making.
Samir grows his own peas, radishes and lettuce. He also grows his own pea shoots, thyme, basil and parsley. He orders everything else because as he says, “I don’t grow the best produce. There are others who are better.”
If you could eat anywhere in the World: Barcelona, Spain
Tips for home cooks: Don’t be afraid if you make a mistake. I was teaching a class the other day and the cream I was boiling for ricotta went over. Learn temperature control. Not everything needs to be cooked on high.
Advice for chefs: Stay humble.
Favorite Ingredient: Pork. It is the most versatile animal.
Most overrated ingredient: Pork belly. It’s on everyone’s menu. I want to add it to my menu but I’m waiting until it’s not so popular.
Favorite Season for cooking: the fall. Produce is still good and you can start doing heartier dishes like stews.
Last words:I cook seasonally, I support local producers and I change the menu based on what is coming out of the ground. Those things are very important to me.
Stop by and visit Samir at the Village Cork.