It’s not everyday when a world record holding chef invites you to watch him cook. So when I received the email about interviewing Chef Daniel Bartlett, I jumped at the chance. Though I have seen and heard great things of his amazing work, nothing prepared me for the experience I was about to have…
The chef and I chose to meet at his culinary alma mater, the Art Institute, located off of Broadway and I-25 in Denver. When I walked into one of the classroom kitchens, Chef Bartlett had already strategically prepared four different aluminum tables with the dishes for my private demonstration. I asked him how it felt to be on his old stomping grounds and he immediately perked up, “Every time I come back to Ai I feel at home. All of the instructors are welcoming and so supportive of what I have done in my career.”
Chef Bartlett’s career has spanned over 12 years, though he doesn’t look a day over 20. He began cooking in high school and that’s when he realized that food would be his calling. “In high school, I loved the feeling of the wow factor I received from people. And still to this day, I love putting smiles on people’s faces with a single bite”.
I definitely felt the “wow” factor after seeing chef Bartlett create his first dish, a caprese salad. When I hear carprese salad I immediately thought of the typical large pieces of red, ripe tomatoes, bufala mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. Though that’s the recipe chef Bartlett stuck to, he added a delicate and innovative twist. He manifested his dish with petite cherry tomatoes and small circular slices of mozzarella cheese. Once those components were precisely placed with a large set of tweezers, chef Bartlett added natural gelatin caviar, a baked Parmesan cracker and oil which was suspended in a hard candy drop made of pure sugar. It was unlike anything I have seen before.
I like to create food that provides structure and detail. Nobody likes boring.
Chef Bartlett creates many traditional dishes in a way that people will recognize but not expect, “I like to create food that provides structure and detail. Nobody likes boring,” he says about the artistic approach to his food creations. “I see and find things that keep people guessing of what they are eating. I see techniques that excite people about food and the idea of eating as if it were a show, experiencing every single bite and every little detail put into a plate.”
Chef Bartlett was talking about his inspiration while creating a Granita, which is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and other various flavorings. Every detail was planned, except for when he said “I have an idea!” then asked his assistant to grab him the dry ice. He dropped a few pieces of the dry ice into an eight ounce glass, added water to the ice and then began to blow on the ice to create the fog illusion. When the Granita was complete he placed the martini top glass into the eight ounce glass with the dry ice. He looked up at me and smirked, “ It’s all about the presentation”
It is easy to see that Chef Bartlett, who has made a personal choice not to work in a restaurant, creates a variety of foods and drinks both spontaneously and specifically. “I like to create a lot of the dishes and it can be anything as simple as a salad to something that you would find in a Willy Wonka movie. I like cooking anything and everything. I never want to brand myself with a certain style of cuisine and limit my abilities. As a chef, I am always learning and will continue to always learn as I grow and develop my skills with new techniques and skills.”
One technique Chef Bartlett has mastered is fruit carvings. In 2010 he set a new world record for the world’s largest fruit sculpture at the Colorado State Fair. “Many careers don’t allow you to be creative or even innovative. I love having the ability to be as creative as I can with food.”
Chef Bartlett is truly an artistic mastermind when it comes to his culinary concoctions. His attention to detail is unmatched but what I loved most about Chef Bartlett was his spunk and his swag. When you meet him you feel that this is where he truly belongs and you can feel his pure, genuine love for what he does. The culinary world is lucky to have him.