20 Questions with James Beard’s Best Chef Southwest Alex Seidel

If you’re not already aware, chef Alex Seidel is kind of a big deal. That was made clear when he took home the prestigious James Beard Award (aka the Oscars for the culinary world) for Best Chef Southwest just last week. But his status as an icon in Denver isn’t necessarily new.
Seidel, who is owner and chef at Fruition and Mercantile Dining + Provisions, has made waves in Denver’s culinary scene with his earnest approach towards cooking since he opened Fruition over 11 years ago. Since then, he has come to define Denver’s signature style of farm-to-table cuisine after he opened his own farm in 2009 by the same name. There he also pushed the craft of Colorado cheesemaking to new heights with a corresponding creamery.
Seidel’s cooking style, as well as his approach to comradery and collaboration, has built up the Denver food scene long before this major award. But still, at a moment like this, it’s a good of a time as any to get to know the man himself a bit better. We spoke with Seidel during a crack in his busy schedule to ask him 20 rapid-fire questions about his life, his work and even his fast food guilty pleasure.
303: What was the first thing you ate that made you want to be a chef? 
Alex Seidel: I think it was just such a culmination of things. But if there was a memory of me wanting to be a chef honestly, it was like a turtle soup.
303: You said you started in the restaurant business at 14 in your acceptance speech. What was your job?
AS: I was a dishwasher
303: Was there ever a time you didn’t want to be a chef?
AS: No
303: What do you love most about being a chef?
AS: There’s just always something new to learn
303: What’s the best thing about owning a farm?
AS: Having a greater connection to food.
303: What’s the worst thing about owning a farm?
AS: There are a billion challenges.
303: What’s your favorite type of cheese?
AS: Soft ripened bloomy cheese from Fruition Farms.
303: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure food? 
AS: French fries
303: What’s your favorite cooking show?
AS: Probably Yan Can Cook [laughs]. But I haven’t watched cooking shows in a very long time. I watched a little bit of Top Chef this year. I just really never have time to watch TV or movies.
303: What’s the first thing you do when you leave the restaurant?
AS: Drive home [laughs]
303: What’s your family’s favorite meal you make for them? 
AS: Rotisserie chicken.
303: Do you have any names of restaurant you didn’t end up creating? 
AS: Jesus. I don’t even want to say it, it wasn’t even close either. It was awful. Modern Savage.
303: What was your first thought when you heard you had you won the Best Chef Southwest award?
AS: Holy shit. Then my wife just grabbed me pretty hard.
303: Who do you expect or hope to win the award next from Colorado?
AS: I really like the work that Max [MacKissock] does. Max and Blake [Edmunds]. I’ve always liked Lon Symensma’s restaurants. I’ve heard so much about Caroline [Glover]. Dana [Rodriguez], Steve [Redzikowski], Paul C. Reilly. I could go on. 
303: What does Denver’s restaurant scene have that no other city has?
AS: We have this really rich beverage industry and beverage professionals and people in hospitality that I think work really well with the chef community.
303: What does Denver’s restaurant scene lack or need more of? 
AS: We need quality. It’s tough with so much growth in dilution — dilution of talent, dilution of good people, dilution of good chefs. I think that makes it difficult a little bit. Just because there are a lot of restaurants that doesn’t mean it’s good for everybody, you know?
303: What are your favorite restaurants Colorado right now?
AS: Señor Bear. Concourse. I was there early, early on. I like Luke [Bergman at Concourse] and I know he’s talented. I really, honestly, I don’t get out very much.
303: What are your favorite restaurants not Colorado right now?
AS: One of my all time favorite chefs is Jamie Bissonnette. What he and Ken Oringer do at Toro and Little Donkey is the kind of food I like to eat. That people like to eat in general.
303: What’s the most important lesson(s) you’ve learned this year?
AS: Probably time management. It’s been pretty tough, you know, over the last couple of years when you’re a chef in one location for so long and then I was in the Mercantile to get that up and rocking and rolling and then you have to kind of be everywhere. And making sure that you balance time and there’s attention everywhere while also trying to really enjoy what I do at the same time.  
303: Describe what makes a great chef in three words.
AS: Work ethic, dedication… and maybe a little OCD.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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