Alex Seidel doesn’t like using recipes.
“I had never had recipe books in my kitchen. It was always just teach to cook,”Seidel, who is the chef and owner at Fruition and Mercantile Provisions in Denver, said that he is a culinary celebrity.
“I’ve been programmed to think, ‘Yeah. My labor’s going to be 40-45% and that’s just the way it is, and if it takes five minutes to create the salad, it takes five minutes to create the salad,’” Seidel added.
That approach was changed when he co-developed Chook Charcoal Chicken along with Adam Schlegel, a business partner who also founded casual-dining breakfast-and lunch chain Snooze A.M. Eatery.
Chook, which rhymes “nook,” is Australian slang for chicken, and the restaurant is inspired by Schlegel’s years spent living in Melbourne, Australia. His wife and their two children loved eating at corner shops, where they could find delicious, affordable meals that were authentic to the region.
Schlegel had to wait a while before Seidel was accepted, but eventually he found the opportunity to offer food in a more affordable format.
“There are issues of food access, food quality, distribution, processing — the overall health of the food system. … Chook is really meant to tackle all of those challenges and provide good food to more people in more neighborhoods,” Seidel said.
Chook is also certified as a B-corporation. This means it must satisfy certain criteria related to social equity and environmental sustainability.
The restaurants serve rotisserie chicken, sourced from the same northern Indiana purveyor that sells chicken to Seidel’s other restaurants, cooked over a charcoal grill. It’s served with a global pantry of sauces, including traditional gravy of chicken stock reduction thickened with roux, chimichurri, piri-piri, barbecue sauce and a Mexican hot sauce called macha thickened with pumpkin seeds.
Sides include mac ’n’ cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy and potato wedges, but also grilled seasonal vegetables, charred vegetables seasoned with dukkah, celery-apple slaw and cucumbers with feta cheese, mint, cashews and red onion in a red wine vinaigrette. There are five types of salads, four sandwiches and falafel. The falafel was introduced last October to appeal more to vegetarians. Schlegel says the falafel is successful enough that they’re having trouble keeping up with demand and are now shopping for new machines.
The average per-person check costs between $13-$15
The restaurants are now flourishing, with three locations in different Denver-area neighborhoods, and a fourth opening soon in Greenwood Village, Colo.
To a certain extent, Chook — which first opened in December of 2018 — was well-suited to the onset of the pandemic. With a mission to provide wholesome, delicious and affordable food to people who couldn’t afford Seidel’s other restaurants, the menu had been designed to streamline labor and keep food costs in line.
Although the menu may seem complicated, most of the vegetable dishes are based on cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots.
“I worked on the brine recipe [for the chicken] for a long time, because a brine at Mercantile takes me a couple hours to make. The brine here, you fill up a five-gallon bucket of water and its done,”He said.
Seidel stated that he was amazed at the consistency of the sauces when they opened the second Chook restaurant. The same was true for the third. The fourth location is going to be larger, with a commissary to produce all of the restaurants’ sauces and dressings, as well as falafel batter.
He’s in no rush to expand, however.
“We always look at this as one at a time. This is a restaurant, not a ‘concept,’” Seidel said.
Schlegel stated that they would like to eventually bring more good food to people.
“We obviously believe a lot in what we do and can see Chook being really beneficial in a lot of communities,”He said. “The more that we do this, the better our poultry industry can be and the better opportunities we can give to our teams.”
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
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