Paul Reilly, Executive Chef at Encore restaurant in Denver got his start cooking in Boulder and later in Telluride. “After awhile I found that I was more passionate about cooking than I was about English Literature, which was my degree. My chef persuaded me to go to culinary school. Since I am from New York I decided to “go home” and attend the French Culinary Institute. It was a pivotal decision to go to school. It helped me learn refinement. While I was in school I worked at some amazing restaurants in the city, Michael’s, Danal and Le Bernardin. I learned patience, organization and a greater knowledge of cuisine. Eric Ripert never raised his voice at his chefs when I was there. Everything he said was at a conversational level.”
Do you work on the line or do you expedite? I work on the line most nights. I expedite on Fridays and Saturdays. When I’m on the line I work sauté or grill and I always want to be the best cook in the kitchen. Being on the line helps me get into the menu. It helps me refine all the dishes as well as helping with leadership in the kitchen. It’s great to be part of a crew.
What is the manliest cooking method? Pastry. It takes the most finesse. I currently do all the desserts at Encore.
Most tedious job ever: Making rabbit sausage for a wine dinner. I had to break down 15 – 16 rabbits. It took a long time because they have so many small bones. In the end, everyone loved it.
What is your guilty pleasure? Hot dogs with mustard. Even Oscar Meyer. No ketchup, though. I hate it.
Best Hot Dog Ever: The overdone ones at Katz’s Deli in NYC for $2.
Farm to Table? Yes
Do you write your menu? I do. I also allow my chefs to have their input. If there is a technique or an ingredient that they want to try, I listen. We change the menu 3-4 times a year at Encore. The menu is an amalgamation of ideas. My staff helps me complete my thoughts.
When you conceptualize a dish what do you think of? Seasonality and plating. I can taste things really well in my imagination. I also think about what stations will have to execute the dish. If the sauté station is already doing 8 dishes and grill only has three, then you have to rethink things.
If you could put anything on your menu? Skate wing. It’s such an East Coast thing. Try explaining skate wing to diners in Denver. It’s hard. I don’t think it would sell.
If you could eat anywhere in the world? Greece. I’m eating grilled branzino, lamb, olives and sautéed greens.
Molecular Gastronomy? No, but before I say that I think I need to learn more about it. I want to try sous vide for sure. But, I think that I would rather eat a real piece of pizza versus a cube or ball that tastes like pizza. Fois gras powder is cool, but I really just want some fois gras.
Favorite chefs in Denver: Andrea Frizzi at Il Posto. I love how he looks at his walk in to see what is going to be on the menu for the day.
Alex Seidel from Fruition. His flavors are so clean. He maximizes flavor on a plate like no other chef can.
Tyler Wiard. He is the best at making modern American cuisine using old school techniques.
Aaron Whitcomb. Not only is he a “freaking” amazing guy, his food is super good.
What is your favorite thing to make? Pasta. Pasta can always be seasonal. It absorbs flavors and techniques of each season. It is the ultimate comfort food.
1. James Peterson Fish & Shellfish. This is the bible for what comes out of the sea. Being in landlocked Colorado is much different than being on the East Coast. There everyone has heard of every fish. Here – not so much. It’s very educational.
2. James Beard American Cookery. This cookbook contains everything from egg salad to how to braise a squirrel.
3. Mario’s Molto Italiano. I use this at home all the time.
Favorite kitchen tool? Spoons.
How do you cope with being married and being a chef? My wife is awesome. She supports me and encourages me even though this is very hard. I work at least 70 hours a week. We are expecting our first child in December.
How do you wind down after service? A shot of whiskey and a beer.
Advice for kids wanting to be chefs? Pick a chef or a restaurant that you admire. Go and work there for a while before you commit to Culinary School.
Advice for home cooks? Use more salt. Read the recipe. Read it again. Have all the ingredients ready before you start cooking.
What would you like to see more of in Denver? Better public transportation. Better farmers markets. Farmers markets are not outdoor carnivals. I want to see something like the Union Square Farmers Market in NYC.
What do you think about the food truck trend in Denver? It’s a bit overblown. Where is the ice cream truck? At Encore, we have talked about doing a truck but by the time we get around to making it happen we might need a hovercraft to keep up with the times.
Favorite pastry chef? Keegan Gerhardt. His seasonal menus and his plating make him stand above the rest.
Most overrated ingredient? Avocado.
Last words? Denver diners have been great at supporting independently owned restaurants. There are a handful of chefs in Denver doing craft food with local ingredients and it has been great to see the public support what they are doing.
The biggest challenge Denver faces in the dining scene? Getting front of the house service up to par with what the chefs are doing. Denver is going to have to step it up a bit.