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Ore House chef on what Americans can learn from European food

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Shaun Stanley/BCI Media

Ore House chef Cliff Bornheim removes steak from the grill in this 2015 file photo.
Ar 161019725
Shaun Stanley/BCI Media

Ore House chef Cliff Bornheim removes steak from the grill in this 2015 file photo.

Cliff Bornheim, chef at the Ore House, competed in the Iron Horse Chef Competition at the farmer’s market in 2014, winning both rounds and the title. He initially worked at the Ore House for two years in college, before moving to study abroad in Italy. Upon returning to the United States, he ended up back at the restaurant. Bornheim is featured in DGO again this week with more cooking wisdom; this time describing the key distinctions between cooking in Europe and America and explaining why simpler food is usually better.

What’s the biggest difference between eating in America versus Europe? When I was studying abroad in Italy, we went on a trip to Venice for Carnivale, and when we got back our teacher asked, ‘What did you do?’ We said, ‘Oh, hung out with a million people.’ And she asked, ‘What did you eat?’ And we were like, ‘Oh, just some street food.’ And she said, ‘That’s the big difference between Italians and Americans. Americans go on a trip and get back and people ask what you saw, what you did. But Italians will ask, ‘What did you eat?’” It’s such a big part of their culture. In the United States, we’re more about getting food down because you need energy, and then going to do stuff. But in Italy you wake up, they don’t care about breakfast, you get your day done by 3 o’clock and then you pretty much spend the rest of the day eating. I think food being the center of the culture really changes the way they treat it. In Europe, you go to the grocery store almost every day. You’ll never see anyone with a cart overflowing with food. I think because of that, they’re using far less processed food. It’s almost like going to the farmer’s market every day. The biggest one is lunch meat; a lot of that is because the USDA and the FDA require a lot more processing of meat than what Italians do when they cure their meat, technically for health reasons. But they’ve been doing it for thousands of years – I think it’s probably fine. Unfortunately, we lose a lot of the flavor in having to over-process things.

So is going to the farmer’s market cheaper than the grocery store?I wouldn’t say cheaper, but the quality is there. I think Italian food is able to be simple because they use better ingredients, so they can use fewer of them. The prime example is my favorite sandwich shop [in Italy]. There was the thinnest layer of meat and sauce and some arugula, and it’s just exploding with flavor. You come here and get a pound of lunch meat on your sandwich and it still tastes like nothing! So maybe the farmer’s market is a little cheaper because you can use less? But it all comes down to where you want your money to go. We support a lot of local businesses here at the restaurant, which comes around to benefit the community. The money stays here.

Did you pick up cooking tips in Italy? The number one thing I learned is their food is good ’cause it’s simple. I was studying wine with a som there, and his comment was, “French food is great because it’s complicated. Italian food is great because it’s simple.” I lived in Tuscany and fell in love with a soup called ribollita, which was originally minestrone, and then whatever they had left over. They’d throw all their old bread into it, and the next day boil it back together. It turned into this thick, almost forkable soup. I think a lot of the best food is poor man’s food. Dumplings, grits, things like that.

Do you think people are snobby about food that’s simpler?I think people just like food that tastes good, especially in Durango. People here aren’t as picky about the hoity-toity, dressing stuff up. They’d rather have it taste good.

What’s a Southwest region dish you love?Green chili. I grew up here, so green chili being in everything is pretty normal. I guess that’s not a thing elsewhere. I think the influence of Mexican culture is pretty huge, and you see a lot of spice added to food.

What’s the most popular Ore House dish?The small fillet is our No. 1 seller. We sell twice as much of those as anything else, which is interesting, considering we’re a steakhouse and have been since 1972. Aside from that, a lot of pork. We’re getting local pork called Mangalitsa, a Hungarian breed. It’s from a guy named Bob who raises it in between Mancos and Cortez. He’s got somewhere around 60 pigs and feeds them for a long time exclusively on wheat. And our mac and cheese – which is a testament to people wanting comfort food.

Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldDGO Staff Writer

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Shaun Stanley/BCI Media

Ore House chef Cliff Bornheim removes steak from the grill in this 2015 file photo.