What a “fungi” he is said Chef Bradford Heap of Colterra and Salt Bistro. He was talking about his mushroom forager that had just stopped off at Salt with some black trumpet mushrooms. “He’s going to take me and my kids foraging for porcinis soon,” said Brad. And that’s how my interview started.
Chef Bradford Heap had been cooking for a while before he enrolled in culinary school at CIA Hyde Park. He had to sell his Honda 600 dirt bike, which broke his heart, but also made him grow up. Bradford did well in culinary school he says because he knew his way around a kitchen; he wasn’t green like so many of his younger classmates. It was then that he knew he would be a chef.
Bradford did his extern at L’Orangerie in Los Angeles. The kitchen he tells was full of French nationals. “At that point in my life I was in love with French cooking.” After finishing his externship he went on to work at La Folie under Chef Roland Passot. “Chef Roland was talented and really nuts. He was angry and over the top.” It was there that Brad learned how he didn’t want to act in his kitchen. “I have a little edge in my show but I don’t use that to motivate my chefs.”
After leaving La Folie he went to the Napa Valley and worked with Gary Danko at Chateau Souverain. Chef Danko was and continues to be a huge influence. Gary hired Brad to be his Sous Chef, which was a huge break at the time. Gary taught Brad his approach to cooking locally and seasonally. Brad says he still makes some of his sauces the way Gary showed him back in the day. “Gary was a great teacher. He had great technique. He was an intense chef. I made it there one year. When you work with an intense chef one year is a big deal. It’s easy for a chef to get under your skin if you are not careful.”
From there he went to France, which was a goal of his ever since he read an article in Art Culinare Magazine. The article that caught Bradford’s eye was a feature on Alain Ducasse. Alain Ducasse was the youngest chef to receive 3 Michelin stars at the time. Alain had the ability to take French cuisine and blend it with the Italian’s approach to seasonal, regional cooking. Alain was a master of using the two techniques and honoring both cuisines. Bradford was impressed and motivated. He staged at several French restaurants before finally achieving his goal of working with Chef Ducasse. After surviving in two 3 star restaurants Brad moved onto to Italy where he worked in a few different kitchens including the esteemed Da Delfina. It was there that he learned to moderate the frenchy technique with simple Italian cooking. Da Delfina is known for typical Tuscan cooking; this is where the stinging nettle pasta dish on the menu at Salt originated.
What is the main difference between chefs/restaurants/cuisine in Europe and in America? American chefs are creampuffs! It’s a cultural thing. In Europe people know how to slow down and celebrate the arts of the table. In America we rush around too much. In Italy the chef would make his own balsamic vinegar. The patriarch of the family would go out and gather the greens that would be served at the restaurant that evening. In Boulder we are starting to embrace artisanal producers, cheese makers, farmers. We are making Boulder a Mecca for this way of thinking.
Who conceptualizes the menu at Colterra and Salt? I work with my chefs and we all give our input. We create menus based on vegetables that are seasonal, not on proteins. For me to embrace local purveyors it dictates that the vegetable is in the driver’s seat and the pork chop, for example, is along for the ride.
What would you put on your menu if you didn’t have to worry about it selling? Stinging nettle pasta with Parmigiano-Regianno and olive oil. I write my menus based on what I want to eat, what I want to put in my belly.
In your opinion, what is the difference between French and Italian technique? The Italians are more honoring of the vegetables. They dance with their food. The French exert their dominance over the food. They step on its toes.
Bradford is all about the rustic, simple approach to cooking. When he was starting out he would write his menu and make the market bring him the ingredients. Now he goes to the market and then writes his menu. It’s farm to table. The market dictates what he makes.
As a chef/owner of two restaurants and the father of twins what do you do to relax and how to you manage to live? I exercise. I don’t drink very much or use any “artificial joy”. I love what I do. I love my kids. I hire people who are talented and can help me run my business.
Favorite comfort food Anything local or seasonal. I eat a lot of vegetables. I try to treat my body well.
Favorite kitchen tool The French knife. You can do anything with a French knife except maybe make an emulsified sauce.
Favorite ingredient White truffles
Favorite food city San Francisco
Favorite cookbook Alain Ducasse. He signed it for me; something like – this is a memento of all your hard work here. I still use Alain’s cookbook for inspiration and for centering.
If you could eat anywhere in the world right now Without a doubt Da Delfina.
Why did you open Salt I’ve always had a dream of having a restaurant on Pearl Street and in the location we are in now. It was easy to find investors but not so easy to get the bank loan. They turned us down three times. Today I just cooked lunch for the President of the bank and I think he enjoyed it.
Advice for kids who want to go to culinary school Work in a restaurant for a couple of years. Lose that glamorized garbage of Food Network TV. If you’re passionate and not afraid to bust your ass this is the job for you. Can you deal with the pressure of the line? Can you work nights and weekends?
Advice for home cooks Cook low on the food chain. You don’t have to build your dinner around proteins. Explore eating rice and beans. Cook big batches and freeze them. It’s important to look at your diet and where your food comes from.
Any parting words? I can’t undo the wrongs of the world but I can vote with how I buy my food and show people a way of cooking that celebrates vegetables. It’s healthier, much better for you.
I recently went to Buffalo Wild Wings and I was appalled at all the over weight people stuffing themselves on fried chicken, white bread and beer. I had a chicken wrap and was so sick. My body isn’t used to that.