10 Dishes with Chef Justin Cucci
The chef and owner of Denver’s Edible Beats restaurant group, tackles our speed round of questions.
After a shift, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “Ice cream. It’s my way of escaping the heat and grease and their persistent dehydration. It’s pretty much a salve for all internal and external stress.”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “I can’t imagine saying no to making something, especially if I’m cooking for somebody else. I’m most inspired when I’m cooking for somebody else. As long as they don’t want an extinct species of mammals, then I’d say I’m pretty much game for anything.”
All-time favorite spice. “I think about ginger a lot. Like too much. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, biting and warm. Ground ginger, in particular, brings a completely different flavor—and when you use both fresh and ground together, those flavors intensify—that’s when flavor gets real!"
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “For me, it either has to be jazz or Brazilian music. The open-ended flow of jazz and the infectious cadence of Portuguese, always feels like the right background to cooking with joy and love.”
Did you grow up cooking as a child? “I didn’t do much cooking as a child but the one dish I made thousands of times was a train wreck marinara sauce with every single spice, condiment and shitty idea I could muster. It was terribly brown, undeniably sweet and barely edible.”
What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “Cookbooks with recipes feel like an already completed book of songs but sometimes it’s nice to just improvise with The Flavor Bible. It’s a book of culinary harmony, dissonance and melodious food infinity.”
After all these years working in restaurants, do you still enjoy going out to eat? “I do and I don’t. I love food, I crave food, and eating great food is a luxury in life I’m so grateful to be able to have access to—and sometimes I never want to go out to eat again. The parking, host stand dance, the often disconnected service, the misappropriation of time, etc. It all leads to a dilemma.”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “For his boundary defying innovation, I would cook with David Chang or for his incredible nonstop thought provoking deliciousness and commitment to excellence, José Andres.”
Name the all-time best cooking show. “It’s got to be either America’s Test Kitchen or Cooks Illustrated. There’s a certain level of plating narcissism on display that can be found in some of the modern cooking shows we see today. That’s not what I personally want to see. What I want to see is basic Christopher Kimball and his every person team of cooks, explaining patiently tested methods of ricing potatoes for the best gnocchi in three different climates and elevations.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “If I’m traveling for business it would have to be my iPad. Keeps me organized takes pictures and pretty much runs the show.”
Justin Cucci is the chef and owner of Denver’s Edible Beats restaurant group, which includes Root Down, Linger, Root Down DIA, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Vital Root and El Five. His first cookbook, The Edible Beat, will be available on Amazon this month.
Interview has been condensed and edited.