Chef Daniel Gerson is the culmination of the Blue Star's year-long search for an executive chef. The 37-year-old was born in Lyon, a city with a metro area close to the size of Denver and which is considered the capital of gastronomy in France.
After three years, his family moved to Israel. Though he traveled back and forth between the two areas, Gerson mainly lived there until he was 27, serving in the Israeli army for three years, as well as working with a non-kosher butcher, where he got his professional food start. But his education began much earlier.
"In the house, it was always about food," Gerson said in a conversation held before the Blue Star's $70-per-person chocolate wine dinner Wednesday night. (Look for more on that tomorrow.) "French home: It’s all about the kitchen. The kitchen is the main room in the house, and it was always like that. And bless my mom and my grandma — let’s just say they kept us well-nourished all those years. And I never really thought about it until I started working as butcher and I just found myself really enjoying myself."
Gerson is a large, well-spoken, loquacious guy who talks in an accented English that gives off sparks of his fluency in French — he returned there to run the kitchen at Paris' famed Prince de Galles hotel — and Hebrew, as well as the six years he spent cooking in England after "crossing the Channel." One stop in particular, The Crown Inn Chiddingfold, played a major part in the chef's development.
"Well, after six months, I managed to achieve two [AA] rosettes for the restaurant," Gerson says. "I managed to maintain it for more than three years; really pushing the boundaries of the quality of the food and just bringing the glory back to that place. It was a real gem, and when I look back, I really managed to do something special there."
Throughout his travels, even through Phoenix and now to the Springs, Gerson sought new challenges, leaving a restaurant when he felt that perhaps he had learned all there was to learn. The following includes some more thoughts from our pre-dinner conversation. (A tip of the cap to Westword, whose "Chef and Tell" series inspired this blog.)
ON WHAT HE LOOKS FOR WHEN BEGINNING AT A NEW RESTAURANT: "What’s important for me is, what are we using? What are the ingredients? Even though I’ve been very, very classically French trained, I was quite a few times in Italy, quite a few times in Spain, in Germany, really trying to get as much as I can from everywhere."
ON STYLE VERSUS SUBSTANCE: "Yes, I can cook things that are going to be a bit more elaborate, but I don’t always feel that that’s the only ... the nouvelle cuisine is glorious, but sometimes it’s too much. And I’m not ashamed to say, either way. It just means that what I like to focus on is that the flavors are there. There’s a time and a place for everything. Sometimes it works well to play that card, but when you are running a busy restaurant — and the Blue Star is a good example for that — if you start putting eight, nine, 10 elements on a plate, we’re going to have a problem."
ON WHAT HE SEES AT THE BLUE STAR: "The Blue Star is a very good restaurant, and it’s got a very strong base, and I’m not trying to knock anything. But the Blue Star is a good restaurant that has potential to become a much better restaurant. There are things that I always believe that are about basics. And it’s about giving the time to the preparation. I’ve been here for a few months here and I’m happy to say that we’ve already done a few steps in our journey. When I came on board, I was here for almost a week before I decided to join. Even with [just] the Blue Star, there’s a lot of potential in making it something that is even more special than today."
ON HIS FAVORITE INGREDIENTS TO COOK WITH: "Look at me — there’s so many! If it is going to be meat, one of my favorites is venison. I just love venison. I just love game. Venison has got that richness in the flavor, and it just melts in your mouth. If it’s a bird: pigeon. Yes, pigeon is something, no doubt. There’s not much meat, but the meat that there is ... the breast ... you eat it almost raw, it’s just being seared. It’s not a lot on the plate, but — and there is a ‘but’ — it’s something, for me anyway, probably my favorite bird out there. And if it’s fish, some love the sea bass; I’m more of a ... turbot, that’s my favorite fish. For me, that’s the Rolls Royce in the ocean."
ON KITCHEN MORALITY: "In France, if you put veal on the menu, whatever you’re going to do with it — it doesn’t matter what kind of technique, what kind of cooking type — it’s gonna sell. I move to England, just across the Channel, my first menu I put veal on the menu, and veal is not selling that well — it’s my worst seller. Well in England, apparently, they’re much more conscious about how the animal is being reared. For me it baffles me — you eat cows, you have no problem eating cows; veal is the same animal."
ON HIS FAVORITE KNIFE: "Probably Wüsthof, but still, probably no [preference]. Whatever does the job. As long as it’s a nice blade, I’m happy."