Food & Wine: Max Mackissock

Max Mackissock

F&W Star Chef

Chef: Max Mackissock

Restaurant: Bar Dough (Denver, CO)

Education: Schenectady County Community College (Schenectady, NY)

Experience: Figliomeni’s Restaurant (Albany, NY); Glen Sanders Mansion (Scotia, NY); Vita, The Squeaky Bean (Denver, CO)

Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from him or her?
My mother was the one who first got me interested in cooking. She was always trying new recipes and started my thought process into cooking for more than just sustenance.

What’s a dish that defines your cooking style?
I don’t think that I have defined my culinary style yet. Many things influence me every day. I love refining humble dishes just as much as making a spot-on version of the authentic version.

What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself? And what is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
I seem to remember trying to make some type of strawberry shortcake pancake disaster with my sister when we were very young. Most of it ended up in shoes and other random places around the house. My folks were not that impressed with our ambition.

As far as a dish for an inexperienced cook trying to push their culinary boundaries, braising is a very satisfying and simple process. You can cook a pork shoulder in chicken stock with whatever flavor profile you choose for ten hours at 250 degrees and the results should be great. A great way to tell when braised meat is done is “the skewer test.” Insert a skewer into several areas of the meat, and if there is no resistance or “pull,” then it is done.

Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
The person who has had the most influence on me is my wife Jennifer Jasinski. She has taught me so much. She has a vast amount of classical knowledge, but most of all her help in running businesses has been incredible.

Favorite cookbook of all time?
This is really hard, because I love cookbooks. The French Laundry book has to be the best, though. I didn’t put it down for three months when I got it. I could tell you what page some of the dishes were on. I love reading about other chef’s processes and philosophies.

What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
You have to be self-motivated. Without that, the long hours and other daily rigors will take you down.

Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
All of them. I have had the privilege of being in the same kitchen with some amazing people, and it makes you realize that you can constantly hone every aspect of your craft. You can always improve at everything.

What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how would you use it?
Onions are a great way to add many different dimensions to a dish. Caramelize them to add deep rich flavor to a broth. Or use them fresh for terrific textural crunch.

Name three restaurants you are dying to go to in the next year and why?
Meadowood in Napa, because chef Christopher Kostow’s food looks sensible, interesting and refined all at once. Quay in Sydney, because Peter Gilmore’s food looks beautiful, and Australia is next on my list for travel. Steirereck in Vienna. The food looks incredible, and sounds so delicious.

Best bang-for-the-buck food trip—where would you go and why?
I just went to Austin, which is a very cheap flight from Denver, and had an incredible time. You can have many layers of sophistication in food and accommodation without busting your wallet.

What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
I got a handmade ten-inch fish slicer in Osaka, Japan, that I have used every day for the last five years.

What do you consider your other talent(s) besides cooking?
I am an avid mountain biker. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world. It is a great release from the stress of the kitchen. I also love vegetable gardening.

If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring, and what would you make?
A few years ago, I taught an Outward Bound cooking class in the mountains for two weeks. I made pizza in a fire pit. However, the most versatile things you can bring are grains, a pot, some super-aged cheese and grits. You will be eating well for weeks.

What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
With climate change and a growing population, everything is going to be harder to grow, fish and cultivate. I think sustainably raised fish is going to be a focus of our species moving forward. I had the pleasure of going to Vancouver Island and seeing the operation at Skuna Bay Salmon. It was inspiring seeing people who care so much about doing it the right way.

What is your favorite snack?
Cold cuts and whatever condiments I have, like turkey and Dukes or Hellman’s mayo or pastrami and Thousand Island—which is bread and butter pickles, Tabasco, mayo, and ketchup in varying proportions, based on what I have in my fridge.

Best new store-bought ingredient/product, and why?
I really like my Nespresso coffee-maker. I’m a caffeine junkie, and it gives me a short kick in the pants in about 30 seconds.

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