The co-founder and chef of Capitol Hill’s Potager dishes about owning chickens and goats, Food Network competitions, and how food and community are inexorably intertwined. Interview by Geoff Van Dyke
You just put your chickens in for the night. What else do you have at your house?
I have two gardens. One has fruit: raspberries and strawberries and rhubarb. The other is a vegetable garden. And then in two weeks, I’ll have goats for milk.
You opened Potager 15 years ago, and you’ve always been deliberate about the farmers and the people who raise the meat for your restaurant. Is that part of a larger philosophical framework?
It is. I believe that’s the right thing to do. I believe that our bodies are made to eat what we grow in our communities, locally and seasonally. We’ve gotten so far away from that, our culture now is suffering the consequences and a multitude of health problems. I believe we’re made to eat real food, whole foods in season, and we will be healthy. That’s how we take care of our communities. That’s how we care for each other.
Is part of eating healthy an economic issue?
That is a big challenge for our society. But it’s not so much the cost as the accessibility. Poorer families in poorer parts of the city don’t have access to fresh produce, good produce. There are a lot of organizations around Denver that are trying to do community gardens and things like that in low-income places, and now you can get food stamps for farmers’ markets.
You started your first restaurant, in Columbia, Missouri, with your father.
We opened Trattoria Strada Nova when I was 28, and we were the first place in Columbia to sell wine by the glass. We had an espresso machine. We had these guys helping us build the place out, and they’d say, “No one’s going to buy a cappuccino. No one’s going to pay five dollars for a glass of wine.” We didn’t do any media before the opening; no marketing. And we had a line out the door the first night.
You didn’t do media then, and you don’t really do any media now. Why is that?
Media is such an ego thing, and I just don’t really like to engage in that.
There’s almost this cult of personality because of these TV shows today.
I don’t think the Food Network has done cooking any great favors, and it’s turned out some really terrible chefs. It’s not so much the Food Network, though, as it’s the competitions. No one emphasizes the most basic things about cooking. Now we’ve got all these people calling themselves chefs that have no skill, no basic techniques, no real restaurant experience, and no experience managing people: all the things that make a really good chef.
We’ve talked about some of the challenges facing us when it comes to eating. What can we be optimistic about?
The conversation has started. People are talking about what they should or shouldn’t eat. People are gardening. People are talking about gardens, or they’re going to the farmers’ market. That’s a big thing. That’s what makes me hopeful.