October 17, 2018
Willy Wonka of Denver Ian Kleinman and the Tara Donovan Inspired Dinner Society
When it became time to research a local chef who would create a conceptual menu to pair with the Tara Donovan: Fieldwork exhibition, a little chat with some of my favorite Denver chefs was all it took. The resounding echo of the voices in the community was clear: Ian Kleinman is the man, and that is what he does.
Ian Kleinman is the owner of The Inventing Room Dessert Shop, which also doubles as an imaginative catering business for inspired events. He is known as the Willy Wonka of Denver, a master of molecular gastronomy, and one who can use spherification, liquid nitrogen, and edible paper to actualize the impossible. He has invented a culinary experience for the upcoming Dinner Society on October 27 that will mirror the larger-than-life exhibition currently on view.
I had the opportunity to chat with Kleinman in anticipation of the upcoming event, and he was happy to answer my questions about being a chef in Denver and the world at large.
Did you know you wanted to become a chef at an early age, or was is something that evolved while making other plans?
My father was a chef and my grandfather was a chef so I was exposed to the culinary industry at a very young age. I was working in my dad’s restaurants by the time I was eight years old. It’s always been something that I love to do.
Have you ever made a mistake in the kitchen that led to discovering something new and exciting?
Yes, I make mistakes all of the time. Some of my mistakes have become my best inventions. I think it’s important to take each experiment to the end–even if it’s bad–so you can see what you can create out of it.
How do you feel about the rapid growth of new concepts led by large restaurant groups in Denver?
I think we need to be careful of the growth in the industry right now. I love all the new concepts and new ideas, but I wonder where are the customers and who will work for all of these places. I’m a huge believer in less is more, and I think if you get too big nothing good comes out of it.
How did The Inventing Room land in The United Arab Emirates? What are chefs doing there that is unique compared to other places in the world?
We cooked at the 2016 Dubai Food Festival and had a lot of interest from a local mining company to set up shop there. It is a very unique market, I would describe it as being like New York times ten. It has been a very difficult road getting operations stabilized there. There is lots of competition and a new tax that they have never had before in Dubai. Chefs are pushing the envelope with new presentations and using ingredients that we have never seen here in the States. It’s very interesting to go cook there and to learn from the locals.
As a chef, do you identify as also being an artist? Do you have other creative outlets?
I definitely think food is art. I think a lot about structure, colors, flavors, and patterns when I’m designing a dish. I like working with other mediums like wood and copper. I recently built a 15-foot tall marble Goldberg structure in the dessert shop so guest would have something to look at while they’re waiting for their ice cream.
What would your last meal on earth be (beverage, sides, and of course dessert)?
Vietnamese coffee. Surf and turf, lots of hollandaise sauce. A selection of pies topped with ice cream.
What is a food trend that you wish would die?
The term “farm to table.” It’s all farm to table.
From any period in time, fantasy or fiction, who would you most like to collaborate with?
I think Tesla and I could do some damage.