Cliff Bornheim is chef at The Ore House, Durango’s cozy Old West-style steakhouse. We grilled Bornheim (no pun intended) about the best ways to prepare cheap meals and where to buy less costly food products around town. And stay tuned for a future edition of DGO for more from Bornheim.
How long have you been the Ore House chef? I started when I was in high school. I left for a while; graduated from the Fort, took a semester abroad and studied in Italy. But I’ve been the chef here four years now.
What are some cheap and easy meals even college students can afford to make?When I was in college, my go-to was always roasted chicken. It reminded me of comfort food from home, and you never eat the whole thing, so you can take the rest and make some chicken salad. It’s a $6 piece of meat that you use for about three or four meals. It’s also healthy, and you can pair it with some vegetables. Usually I’d do salt, pepper, rosemary on the outside of the bird, then put it in the oven. A lot of people think with poultry that roasting it for a long time is the best idea, but I’ve found that really hot and fast actually made it taste better. Same thing with turkeys on Thanksgiving. We usually go as high as the oven can go, like 500 degrees, and then it takes about a third of the amount of time. The outside will burn fast if you’re not careful. But that keeps it more tender. I never really liked white meat, and if you cook it faster, the white meat stays juicy.
Pasta is always fun. You go to the store and there’s 7 million pasta sauce options. But if you just get a couple tomatoes, a little onion and garlic, sauté that all together – it’s not only cheaper, it tastes better. The Italians do a sauce called Puttanesca, which technically has a negative connotation – the prostitutes would make it for the sailors when they came into port, and the translation literally is “from this whore.” They’d make that sauce with just onion, garlic, diced tomato, capers and olives. But you can leave the capers and olives out. It’s cheap and delicious.
Everyone says food is expensive down at the Farmer’s Market, and I guess it kind of is, especially if you’re on a limited budget. But that’s usually where I would go. Corn is $.50 an ear, and you can do a million things with that. You can eat it raw, throw it on the grill for a minute, cut the corn off and sauté it. I like meat for almost every meal, and that’s what gets expensive. There’s no cheap alternative, except for the roasted chicken.
Where do you buy meat?James Ranch and Stubborn Farms sell at the farmer’s market, but it all has to be frozen. Sunnyside sells local meat products at Nature’s Oasis. But I don’t know many college kids who could afford to buy meat there. There’s not much option. Guido’s does have specialty meats, but it’s expensive, and for good reason. They import a lot of meat and cheeses.
Any suggestions for people without a full kitchen or just a hot plate in their dorm room?With a hot plate, you can still go to the store and get the pre-roasted chicken. That’s so much easier; you don’t have to do any of the work. I still get that now from City Market. It’s at least two meals worth of food. I don’t cook much at home. Either I’m here, or I’m out and about. I end up eating out more than I probably should. The joke everyone makes is, ‘The chef cooking at home is like the postman going for a walk on his day off.’ We do cook, but honestly, my wife probably cooks more than I do. She’s still nervous, like, ‘I don’t know if it’s good...’ I’m like, ‘Hey, I didn’t have to make it—I love it!’
What are some versatile ingredients everyone should keep on hand?I have onions and garlic all the time. It’s amazing how much better something can be if you just sauté some onions. The last thing I cooked was a quesadilla; some pork, sautéed onions, melted cheese and eggs. It’s amazing how much better it tasted with that onion in there. Especially the French and the Italians, a lot of their recipes always start with chopped onion and garlic or onion and carrot. It adds a good base of flavor, and a lot of people skip that step. It’s a little extra work. And eggs. I put eggs in lots of stuff; it’s a quick, cheap protein. I put a fried egg on my hamburger.
What about frozen food? That’s a lot quicker to prepare.I think frozen food gets a bad rap. Especially with vegetables: Quick frozen vegetables retain more nutrients than canned vegetables and older fresh vegetables. Fresh vegetables are degrading every day, basically. So quick frozen stuff, in some instances, is a lot fresher than what you’re getting at the grocery store.