Yeah, nerds. Hold your sarcastic remarks...it's been almost a month since I have posted - I am very much aware! Three weeks ago I found out an old friend took his own life only to be followed up by getting laid off from my job. I'm not complaining - I'm just letting you know what's been up! It was a constant back and forth battle with myself -- being someone who feels like a failure without a typical 9-5 job. But I decided to soak up my unemployment to really focus on kenNERDdy and a secret project in the works too! Taking time off will be wonderful for my health as well - so I'm going to fully embrace it for the next couple of months. Right upon getting laid off - I went to Vegas with the Caskitt boys for a weekender tour they did with Such Gold. (CHECK THEM OUT) I interviewed Damon Workman while there! He's a Las Vegas superstar chef that isn't only talented in the kitchen - but is so supportive of local peeps and is utterly hilarious. Get to know him this week!
"Executive chef Damon Workman has been a Cantina Laredo fixture for six years. Cantina Laredo Modern Mexican features over 65 tequilas and uses contemporary cooking techniques to prepare traditional recipes with only the freshest ingredients. The restaurant boasts a sophisticated flare in an upbeat environment."
Let's start with a small introduction to kick this off so all the nerds reading can know who I have the pleasure of speaking to today.
Haha well, I'm Damon Workman. I am a Chef, a writer at For the Love of Punk, a sort of A&R guy for Squidhat Records, a painter, and a wannabe musician. It's a whole slew of stuff but reality is I'm primarily a Chef. It's been a passion that turned into a career.
How long have you been cooking?
I have been cooking, or working in some aspect of restaurants, for the past 30 years. There was a small break of a couple of years when I sold plants at a retail nursery. That was cool, but I found myself missing "the life" and went back to it. I've never really been able to see myself doing anything but this - even though there are days when I wish I could! There is a spirit to the kitchen and those you cook with. Sounds super freaking pretentious, but it's true. Working in a kitchen is like nothing else in the world except for maybe a circle pit at a punk show.
When / What made you want to start?
Both of my parents are to blame here. My parents are outstanding cooks and started having me doing things with them when I was very young in the kitchen. So I picked up the actual love for it then. I was shown that cooking for yourself, and especially others, is an expression of love. You can show someone you care just through a simple act of making a PB&J. I think as a kid you pick up on that.
For my restaurant start it was a guy named Sam Massey. When I was in college I got a job as a part time dish guy at his restaurant. For whatever reason he believed in me - saw something - I don't know what exactly. I don't know that I would have taken a chance on me. I had the weird haircut, the not so great clothes, the definitive air of anti-authority, but he started me dish washing. Then prepping. Then counter work. Then managing...and eventually running the restaurant in his stead. He let me create recipes. We'd work together on stuff, came up with an inventory system, ordering and all kinds of stuff. He showed me that I was actually pretty good at this thing, and encouraged me to do it.
What's your all time favorite dish?
Oh man, to make or to eat? I've done some things I'm really proud of as a cook. One of the best things I've done was with my Events Specialist, Eric Hicks. We came up with a slider called the Quitter. (after a local prog punk band here in town) It's roasted carnita meat, bacon, and a sauce we came up with using Chamucos tequila. Then, we made a granny smith apple slaw to top it with and to add a bit of crunch. It was fantastic.
To eat -- I'm obsessed with manicotti. Not sure why. But if there's manicotti on a menu I'll for sure order it.
I'd love to cook but am very uninspired / uncreative in that field. I typically can only follow a recipe. Where do you draw your inspiration from and what is that creation process like?
It usually just starts with an ingredient or flavor and ideas just start coming up. What flavors compliment or contrast with it. I then usually go way overboard and try to do too much, and then scale it back. Simpler is nearly always better. When you go overboard (or when I do at least) it starts detracting from what got you thinking about the recipe or dish in the first place. It's a cluttered mess on a plate
IS THERE LITERAL CRACK IN YOUR CILANTRO LIME RICE?? Seriously I dream over that stuff - it's the best out there.
Thanks! I assure you no unsanctioned chemicals are in it!
I live to read your angry rants about asshole customers on your social media - what are your top three shittiest customer complaints? (and can you confirm or deny if you spit in their food?)
We'll answer in reverse on this, I have never nor have any of the cooks I've worked with ever done anything like that to anyone's food. I think that's sort of a myth perpetuated by movies etc, but it does emphasize the point that you should not mess with those dealing with your food. It's just common sense, and common courtesy (which is lacking in this world).
Man, sometimes I feel bad writing some of that stuff but I know it entertains folks, and it's a chance to vent which of course is healthier than keeping that anger in. Three best huh?
1. I used to have this guy when I worked in a steak house who would weekly place a "To go" order, then complain about a myriad of issues eventually getting the manager on duty to comp the entire order. The next week, the same. Week after week. Finally I worked that shift, got his entire order made by me, boxed it, took it to the bar so he could pick it up. I made him check the entire order with me. He of course got pissy, "Well every time I come in something is wrong". I told him to his face that this last order was perfect. "Last?" Yep, you are never ordering from us again, this is the very last time. Told him it was in his best interest to not put up with our imperfections, life was too short. and said goodbye.
2. People who complain about an onion and cilantro allergy and ask what I am going to make them because of it. Uhhhh, you're an idiot. You're in a Mexican restaurant - the one place you should completely avoid if you are allergic to those things.
3. Too much cheese in our quesadillas. Come on! Give me a break! It's a Mexican grilled cheese sandwich!
You're a huge punk supporter! When did you get involved with FtLP?
I got on with FtLP about three years ago. They were a site that I read regularly and one day there was a post that basically said, "Hey, if you think you'd like to try writing reviews, we are looking for help. Email Ross and see if maybe this is for you." I did, and apparently it was. I've been so lucky to be involved with all these great people. It truly is a labor of love for all of them, and it's been really inspiring to be part of it. It's funny how that carries over into other aspects of your life. I've always loved music and this was like a dream come true.
Would you ever consider writing reviews of restaurants as well as what you already contribute for FtLP since you are so versed in that field?
No - just not my thing. I'm way more about telling people about great new albums!
What music did you enjoy growing up // what kind of music is it now? (Besides Caskitt, of course.)
Lol - love the shout out to those guys! Well played! Growing up I was really into metal and (at the time) classic rock. Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Beatles....that kind of classic rock. My mom and dad always were big music fans so i also heard a lot of Beach Boys (dad's fave), Ray Charles (mom's fave) and lot's of AM radio stuff like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings etc. Wow - that got kinda off target there, but yeah family was a huge influence simply by having that aspect around. My parents' music wasn't what I enjoyed, but the fact it was so prevalent and important to them really helped me tie into the importance for me. So where I was cranking Exodus or Mercyful Fate, they kinda supported that at least I found something I liked and made it mine.
Fast forward years later and I'm very much a punk. There's something about this music that just does wonders for my soul. The fact that it's very much a "for the love of it" type of art is very inspirational. Also that it's an entire culture that is very do it yourself, the "we may not be the very best but we are putting our all into it" is a really important lesson I think for everyone. No one should make art for others, make art for yourself. Do it because you need to, not because you want someone to give you cash. It's good for you.
Do you have any plans to open future restaurants or bars? I can totally imagine you opening a little dive bar to showcase local punk bands!
Hmmmm I'm not sure how to respond lol. I am told that by a number of people who are very important in my life. It's not a fully formed plan per se, but if I were to find investor type folks of like mind I definitely wouldn't write it off. Safety and security vs combining things i love and making a lot more people happy. It's a dream, I can't deny that
I always wrap up my interviews by asking what is the nerdiest thing about you that most people may not know?
I'm not really undercover on my nerdiness, I'm pretty open! But since a lot of folks reading this probably don't know me, I am a HUGE horror fan. It is the main genre of film I ever watch. And I'm not going to say I watch only Oscar quality horror either lol. I will watch damn near anything. There are some truly terrible movies out there and I will watch almost all of them! Doesn't mean I like all of them, but I will watch. I catch a lot of shit from my wife for it too lol. I try to get her into it but alas to no avail!
There you have it, dorks. If you're in the Vegas area - do yourself a favor and visit Damon's restaurant - Cantina Laredo! It's pretty much fancy AF Mexican cuisine but is super affordable. I'd say $11-$30 per plate. The boozy drinks are delicious too but, obviously, you need to get on that lime cilantro rice when you stop by. I really crave it each day I am not at the restaurant...and I've only been there twice. Please #staynerdy until next week and get ready for a special secret project that I KNOW you will love. It involves my pretty awesome, Kawaii tattoo artist Melvin!
PREZZIE OF THE WEEK!
How supportive and thoughtful is my cutie Asian boy? (my boyfriend, to be more specific) Stephen surprised me with this really lovely gift in anticipation of future kenNERDdy interviews! It's a microphone that plugs into my phone so the quality is TONS better for my interviews. I can't wait to try it out!
INK OF THE WEEK
What would my life be if I had never met miss Melvin? It'd be dreadful! My most recent piece, nerds! I'm in love and can't wait to one day be covered in a rainbow, pastel bliss.
INTERVIEW ON DECK
I sat down in a tiny ass closet sized room that had lots of chips with the Stupid Daikini at one of their most recent performances! Read all about this rad trio next week on kenNERDdy.