Let the good times roll: Guest chef dishes up New Orleans-inspired menu

DENVER, Colo. -- To avoid burning eyes and tears while cutting onions, keep the onions in the refrigerator. Cooking a roux for an authentic New Orleans gumbo takes time and patience. Those are just two of the many culinary lessons my brother-in-l...

Guest chef Don Hinchey (left) works in the kitchen with Robert Sansone at Sansone's Bistro in Greenwood Village, Colo. (submitted photo)

DENVER, Colo. -- To avoid burning eyes and tears while cutting onions, keep the onions in the refrigerator.

Cooking a roux for an authentic New Orleans gumbo takes time and patience.

Those are just two of the many culinary lessons my brother-in-law, Donald Hinchey, learned during a recent stint as a guest chef at Sansone's Bistro in Greenwood Village, Colo. Don, a retired Lutheran pastor (dubbed RevDon in our family to distinguish him from our late father, Dad Don) who has found a new part-time calling as a grant writer for the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office in Denver, received this opportunity as a gift from his wife, my sister Margaret. She acquired it at a silent auction fundraiser for the Sertoma Club.

"I bid on this thing throughout the evening without Don ever noticing. I was actually in a bidding war with another woman, and she got really ticked when I put the last bid down as the bell rang," Margaret related. "So I saved it and gave it to Don for his birthday in June."

Don was up for the challenge, and they contacted Robert and Erica Sansone, owners of the restaurant, who explained how it worked and what kind of special menu he should choose. After some deliberation that included a possible nod to his Irish roots, Don settled on a New Orleans theme, he and Margaret having visited that city often.


"When I started looking through cookbooks -- we have a good collection with both Irish and New Orleans food -- it was very obvious that there's a sameness to Irish food that you don't have with New Orleans food," Don explained. "And we had taken a class at the New Orleans School of Cooking, which is more for tourists who want to know some of the essentials of cooking New Orleans."

With Chef Robert's help, Don fine-tuned the menu, adding alligator sausage to the chicken Provencal and crabmeat to the etouffe, among other modifications. Meanwhile -- again unbeknownst to Don -- Margaret sent out an email to friends and family, giving them the info about Don's cooking gig. Don also worked on the recipes in their home kitchen.

"It was tough work, but we had to eat anything that we would serve to our friends, had to make it ourselves -- the gumbo, the etouffe, the chicken Provencal," Don said with a laugh. "I gained three pounds.

"I tried making the gumbo (a few nights before), and Robert had told me beforehand that the secret to a good gumbo is patience. The roux has to be dark and chocolaty, and most people will think they're burning it and pull it off too early. Sure enough, I started the roux, and I was working with it and working with it, and I pulled it off before it got dark enough. When he made the roux, it was oil and flour and a heck of a lot of patience. While we were working, he'd yell out, 'My roux, my roux,' and you'd have to turn around and stir the roux with a whisk. But in the end, he got a gorgeous, chocolaty-looking roux that gives all the flavor to the gumbo."

The guest chef night was set for a Wednesday, and Don reported for duty a day prior.

"I came in on Tuesday from 2 to 5 and learned how to cut an onion, a pepper and the celery -- the trinity of New Orleans cooking -- and got everything ready," he said.

When the prep work was completed, Don sat down at the Sansone bar and found out that he'd be cooking for a full house the following evening.

"The red beans and rice got spilled Tuesday," he said, referencing a quintessential New Orleans dish. "I was talking to the bartender, and she said, 'You wouldn't believe how many people are coming,' and she pulled up the guest list."


The Sansone Bistro was booked for two seatings -- 105 people in all -- a summer record for the restaurant. On the day of the event, Don was presented with his own chef's coat, bearing his name, the restaurant name and the date, and then the real work began. In addition to the guest chef fare, the kitchen also offered turned out from the bistro's extensive menu that night.

"Chef Robert is a businessman, an artist, and he works production like nothing I've ever seen. At the height of the evening, he'd have up on the board 20 orders, and he has them all in his mind," Don described. "Everything moves very smoothly. Even though the kitchen can be a place of organized chaos -- everything is flying at you -- he seems to enjoy it. It's a rush, and on the surface it looks chaotic, but there is a method to getting good quality food out the door in a reasonable time. And I was just doing my best to put rice on a plate.

"If you're going to develop a clientele in the restaurant business, quality is everything," added Don, obviously impressed by the bistro's commitment to fresh, high quality fare. "You don't scrimp on anything. He does give his guests their money's worth."

For the second seating, Don was booted out of the kitchen and allowed to enjoy the fruits of his labor with his special guests.

"The second seating came in gradually, and they were accommodated quickly with rave reviews flowing between tables," reported Margaret. "I took pictures of all the people at their tables, and Don floated around talking to his guests. It was great fun!"

While he's always had an appreciation for fine food, Don said he will now have a different perspective when dining out.

"I will never look at the experience the same way again," he reflected. "The food requires personal attention, and you taste the difference."

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

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