Flagstaff House Chef Mark Monette Q & A
Mark Monette, executive chef and partner of Flagstaff House, has been the man behind the scenes in the kitchen for countless special occasions and celebrations. This fine dining restaurant situated a few miles up Flagstaff Road in Boulder, perched at the Flatirons’ edge with a bird’s-eye view of the city, is where Monette has spent more than three decades fine-tuning his craft in this family run business. The restaurant and staff have received accolades and notoriety locally and nationally, including recognition for being named “Top Ten Restaurant in Boulder,” “Most Romantic Restaurants in America” and “Best American Cuisine and Best Wine Selection.” (This article is from a Q&A interview I did with him in February, 2017.)
Your father, Don Monette, bought the Flagstaff House in 1971 when you were 10 years old. What do you remember about the restaurant back in those days?
“We would come up here in the summer and work, and it was just busy all the time. It was crazy. I mean the detail they wanted to do, but they never really could do it. A lot of crazy stuff. They were all trying to be very high-end, and at the time it was very cutting edge. They’d serve a salad in a brandy snifter and a dressing on the side, and you’d have to go around the table. Just a lot of tableside detail.
Your brother, Scott Monette, is the general manager? What’s it like working with family?
Oh it’s great. My dad’s a great guy and will be 80 this month. My brother and I get along great, for forever. We’ve been partners here for about twenty years, or longer. My son, Adam, just joined us as the dining room manager.
How did you become the chef and Scott the general manager?
When I left to pursue my career, I never anticipated coming back. I moved to Napa Valley, California, when I was about 19. I worked at a great restaurant there and knew I had to get in the kitchen because if you want to be in the restaurant business, you need to know how to cook. I met Bernard Herman, who was a master chef in France, and moved to New York and worked under him for couple years. I went to France after that. When I was in France, the chef here was retiring, and I was talking to my father, and it was just the perfect fit. The rest is history. And then, the same thing with my brother. He was in management school in Las Vegas and was working at different restaurants and things across the country, and the manager here was leaving and it just worked.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
It changes all the time. Today, for example, I took a take on boeuf bourguignon and made a terrine, a chilled boeuf bourguignon in a terrine fashion, where you slice it. We’re going to serve it tonight with some creamy horseradish, a frisée salad, and little, crisp fingerling potatoes.
Do you have a sweet tooth?
Ah, here and there. I enjoy it, but in moderation. I leaned that many years ago. I used to sit down with a pint of Häagen-Dazs and it was no good.
Do you like most foods?
Yes. I don’t think there’s anything I don’t really like. Um. There is one. I don’t like rutabagas. I think that’s about it.
How do you feel about picky eaters?
Oh, it doesn’t matter to me. Everybody’s got their own tastes. Some people will, say, order a well-done filet. Sorry, if you like it well done, enjoy it well done. We’re happy to cook it what ever way you want, just so you enjoy yourself.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
It’s pleasing the customers, of course, pleasing the guests, (to) make sure when they walk out of here, (they’re) leaving very happy and delighted and say that it was one of the best meals they’ve ever had. It’s very rewarding. You never get tired of hearing it. And the other thing is when staff come back after several years and they say, “Wow, I learned so much from you. Thank you.”
What’s your philosophy with changes to the menu–to change it or not?
You still have to change. It’s always a difficult thing to do. When I first stepped in here many years ago, it was difficult because I was making major changes. As you know, steak and lobster, prime rib, onion soup, it was all on the menu. I said, “I don’t want to do any of that,” because I just came back from France, and here I’m doing this beautiful foie gras, and corte de boeuf and caviar. But we did it, little by little. We changed, and the last thing to take off the menu was the onion soup. And when I finally took it off, it was the number one seller. This isn’t the place for onion soup. A bistro is onion soup. Now, like the filet, I have to do a filet with gratin potato with pinot noire sauce, and I can’t take that off the menu because it’s still delicious. It’s great.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I run a lot, but haven’t been lately because I had some injuries with my knees and stuff. So I haven’t been running for about nine months. I used to do a lot of running, ran three marathons. And that’s a big stress relief for me, huge. So I get a little angst because I can’t do it now.
What plans do you have for the future?
We did open another restaurant, my brother and I, about seven years ago. We opened it in Hawaii. It was in the island of Kona. It was very…challenging. We closed it about two years ago. It was a difficult time. We were going there once a month, each, or twice month, each, depending on what was going on. It was brutal. The flying time, coming back at night and still getting adjusted. They always say, “Don’t work where you vacation.” It’s true, because I have no desire to go to Hawaii. But we had it down. We’d pack up five boxes, up to 70 pounds each, of meat, and cheese and paper because it’s so expensive there. We’d be able to take it on the plane for free.
Do you ever get unsatisfied customers?
It’s going to happen. Anywhere. Any restaurant. You’re going to get those people that you just cannot please. And you try. You never stop trying.