Plate executive chef Tyler Henderson describes himself as a large but “gentle” guy (with an impressive red beard, you may have noticed), who doesn’t appreciate Gordon Ramsay’s television portrayal of an angry chef yelling at his kitchen staff. Henderson hails from Houston, where he studied restaurant management and taught culinary school, and said he had to adjust to very different cuisine styles here in health-conscious Colorado. Here’s what Henderson had to say about his constantly changing menu, his experience competing on The Food Network’s “Chopped,” and the ingredients you should always keep in your kitchen.
Tell me about the kind of food you serve at Plate. We do New American, Southwest, farm-to-table cuisine. I get bored very easily, so I have changing features that aren’t pigeonholed to any theme, based on what I want to eat that day. The majority of the menu is Southwest; we’ve got a lot of New Mexican peppers, for example. But almost every menu item has at least one thing on the plate from some farm around Durango.
What dishes are most popular? We have a really popular popper burger with a green chile ball. We sell a lot of cold-smoked elk tenderloin fillets. And quail kisses are our most popular appetizer – that’s quail stuffed with three different kinds of Mexican cheeses and roast peppers, wrapped in bacon, then deep-fried. Those are super delicious. But every two months I change the menu completely.
Why do you change the menu so often?It’s like painting the same picture over and over, cooking the same food. We do get quite a few people who come in and request something they had here before. If I can’t make them exactly what they had, I can make them something cool along the lines of what they’re asking for. I have a bunch of regulars who come in and ask for that.
How are the tastes of customers in Durango different from those in Texas?I’ve seen a better appreciation here for local representation on the menu. In Houston, people were always changing what they wanted, and didn’t really know where it came from. A lot of the New Mexican flavors that I’ve learned to love are far more popular here ... I never thought they’d have so many green chiles in Colorado!
What kind of food is especially trendy right now? Brussel sprouts are trending right now. They’re cheap for restaurants and easy to fix up and make delicious. Gastropub-style food, too. And southern food is making a huge comeback in the U.S. now, as a more higher-end option.
Tell me about your experience on “Chopped.” I’m not super competitive, so this was a personal feat for me. I went up to New York for a week. There’s no prior notice of what you’re going to cook, so it’s crazy. I thought the hardest part would be coming up with something to cook with all the random shit ... but time was the hardest part. I underestimated my anxiety level at seeing the chefs I’ve grown up watching on TV. I wanted to touch all of them, to see if they were real. I made it to dessert, and I got beat by this 50-year-old restauranteur from San Francisco. A lot of the camera crew, and probably like 200 people, messaged me on Facebook after and told me I should’ve won. I have a bunch of kids who will come into Plate and their jaws drop when they see me, because they’re big “Chopped” fans.
What are a few useful ingredients people should keep in their kitchen at all times?I always keep a big, 20-pound bag of Uncle Ben’s rice. There’s millions of things you can do with easy, 15-minute rice, and it’s cheap. That’s my favorite rice for sure. I always keep four different kinds of hot sauces: an Asian one, a Louisiana one, a Mexican one and a super spicy one. I always keep chicken stock; you can just get the shelf-stable box chicken stock, that stuff is like $1 at City Market. I keep that around so I can make a soup, and I make a lot of Crock-Pot stuff. Another thing is pasta; I’m a big starch guy. Starches are cheap, quick to cook, and they last a long time. I always keep gulf shrimp in the freezer in Ziploc bags, to pull out and grill or boil. And curry powder, which I add to different soups, also good to make sauce with and Indian food.
If you were going to be executed, what would you request for your last meal? Tamales. And burnt ends on some brisket. Gosh, I would need all the food! I would just take Fifth Street Eatery’s whole menu with me. I just ate there today; it’s good stuff. And my drink of choice would be an Arizona Green Tea.