This is the fourth installment of our Q&A series with Denver's six James Beard semifinalists. See also our interviews with Jeff Osaka, Sean Kenyon and Jorel Pierce - and stay tuned for further coverage.
Since 2007, when he opened the deceptively low-key, contemporary farm-to-table destination that is Fruition, Alex Seidel has commanded a top slot on the list of truly pioneering chefs in Denver. Just ask Frasca’s Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, who singled Seidel out in our recent piece on local innovators - or the James Beard Foundation, which has nominated him for Best Chef Southwest several years in a row. We spoke with Seidel about the recognition he’s long received and about the planning stages of Mercantile Dining & Provision, slated to open this summer at Union Station.
Since this isn’t your first James Beard nod, have you been giving advice to the newcomers? Do you even remember the first time you got nominated?
Obviously, it’s always an honor - whether the first time or this time, you still feel grateful. I think all the nominees are amazing. Having worked for Frank [Bonanno] and seeing what he’s done since I left Mizuna, what he’s brought to the Denver dining scene - he should be recognized. Same with Jorel and what he’s accomplished with Jen [Jasinski]. Williams & Graham has one of the best bar programs in the country. Yasmin [Lozada-Hissom of Spuntino] and I have been on the list together several times; we’re waiting to get off the list [laughs]. But recognition is not what drives me every day. This year, I was almost more excited for Jeff than I was for myself. He’s a close friend, and I have a lot of respect for him; there’s no advice I can give him that he doesn’t already know.
Pick one dish off your current menu that you’d serve if the awards entailed a cooking competition.
Right now, the Nantucket Bay scallops with crispy veal sweetbreads, housemade orecchiette, winter giardinière and an emulsion of black trumpets and brown butter. I’d say that dish sums us up in a nutshell. The scallops are a delicacy available only a few months out of the year. The sweetbreads undergo a cure process and a confit process. The giardinière speaks to what we’ll be doing at Mercantile - canning vegetables to prepare for winter. And the mushrooms bring in a foraging aspect; these come from Northern California and they’re one of the only mushrooms that grow wild in snow.
Speaking of Mercantile, how’s the development coming?
Having Fruition, I feel pretty confident about the new restaurant, but we’ve been working diligently on the market component - both the menu and the products we want to put on the shelves. Construction begins in the next couple of weeks. Honestly, I really can’t wait to put the busy work aside and get back to cooking. I’m spending too much time on the computer and not enough in the kitchen.
Let’s have some fun, then: considering that you’re a farm-to-table pioneer, name one food that people would be surprised to hear you love.
Hmm. Do I really want to let my true secrets out - my inner demons? I can eat a frozen pizza with the best of ’em.
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