By Helen Olsson By Helen Olsson | July 5, 2022 | Food & Drink People Food & Drink Feature Food & Drink
MEET THE NEXT-GEN OF CULINARY GENIUSES WHO ARE MAKING COLORADO’S FOOD SCENE MORE DIVERSE—AND MORE DELICIOUS.
THIS YEAR, SEVEN COLORADO CHEFS were named semifinalists in the James Beard Awards’ Best Chef: Mountain category. These chefs represent a variety of cuisines, from authentic Mexican pozole to farm-fresh New American. The top seven included Mawa McQueen of Mawa’s Kitchen, an Aspen restaurant specializing in French and Mediterranean cuisine, and Luis Young, chef de cuisine of The Broadmoor’s Summit Restaurant in Colorado Springs. The following five chefs advanced to the next round—officially being named nominees—and the winners were announced in June (after we went to press on this issue). Read on to learn about the hottest chefs in the state and where you should be dining now. And the nominees are…
Roasted whole fish at Annette. PHOTO BY FROM THE HIP PHOTO
Caroline Glover has a penchant for farm-fresh fare. PHOTO BY FROM THE HIP PHOTO
Caroline Glover is the chef and owner of Annette (annettescratchtotable.com), a modern American restaurant in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace founded in 2016 and named for Glover’s feisty great-aunt Netsie.
Glover honed her skills at the Culinary Institute of America and by working in restaurants like Acorn in Denver (under executive chef Amos Watts) and at April Bloomfield’s The Spotted Pig in New York. She also spent time working on farms in Pennsylvania, Vermont and Colorado. She united her passions for farming and cooking when she founded a farm-to-table supper club in Carbondale.
Sunchoke and raclette gratin at Annette. PHOTO BY FROM THE HIP PHOTO
“I really like creating nostalgic dishes and flavors while trying to manipulate the ingredients as little as possible,” Glover says. “Simple is really best.” At Annette, Glover’s scratch-to-table, wood-fired fare is meant to nourish eaters while honoring food producers. Recently she added a caviar service and more oyster dishes to the menu. “We’re working with some great small producers on both coasts,” she says.
When Glover was a young cook, she had the opportunity to prepare food at the James Beard House with one of her chefs. “That left a huge impression on me,” she says. Glover has been either a semifinalist or nominee for a James Beard Award four times since 2018, and in 2019, she was named one of Food & Wine’s 10 Best New Chefs in America. “This year, in particular, it means so much to the team and me to be recognized for all the hard work we’ve put in over the last two years during the pandemic,” Glover says.
The 2022 James Beard Award nomination is Eric Skokan’s second nod from the foundation PHOTO COURTESY OF BLACK CAT ORGANIC FARM
When Black Cat Bistro (blackcatboulder.com) opened in 2006 in downtown Boulder, chef and owner Eric Skokan started growing garnishes to elevate the restaurant’s delectable plates. He went from small-scale backyard gardening to an acre plot to a farming operation that spreads over 425 acres in Boulder County. Skokan grows 250 varieties of organic vegetables, grains and legumes, from black chickpeas to Asian greens to Styrian pumpkins. Black Cat was a casualty of the pandemic, but Skokan’s home-grown produce is still featured on the menu at his restaurant Bramble & Hare (brambleandhare.com), which has since expanded into the Black Cat space on 13th Street, with menus rotating constantly to reflect the season’s harvest.
Vegetables on the plates at Bramble & Hare are farm-stand fresh. PHOTO COURTESY OF BLACK CAT ORGANIC FARM
“I love being on the tractors and the complexity of what happens at the farm,” Skokan told NPR in 2020. “When you stand in the garden and eat a cherry tomato off the vine, you know how good it is. My fantasy has been to give everyone that experience.”
On Black Cat Organic Farm, Skokan also raises sheep, heritage pigs, chickens and geese. He makes his own charcuterie for Bramble & Hare, curing meats like pig bellies and lamb shanks. During the pandemic, Skokan hosted farm-to-table dinners at the farm. Guests dined on hyper-locally sourced meals—made from produce fresh-picked from the nearby fields—under a broad trellis, inside cabanas covered in greenhouse glass or in the farm’s 19th century blacksmith barn. Skokan hopes the dinners will be back this summer.
Dana Rodriguez has her own line of agave spirits PHOTO COURTESY OF DANA RODRIGUEZ
When Dana Rodriguez, who grew up on a farm in Chihuahua, Mexico, came to Colorado, she applied for a job at Casa Bonita. “I figured, I’m Mexican, they’ll hire me,” she says. “But they told me, ‘You’re not qualified, lady.’” She landed a job as a dishwasher at Panzano, but chef Jennifer Jasinski saw her potential as a chef. Rodriguez worked her way up the industry ranks, honing her culinary skills at Rioja and Bistro Vendome.
Ratatouille chile relleno at Work & Class. PHOTO COURTESY OF WORK & CLASS
In March 2022, Rodriguez was named a James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef: Mountain, her fifth nod from the prestigious foundation. Two months prior, she opened her third dining concept—and first solo venture—Cantina Loca (cantinaloca.com), a Mexican cocktail joint where she pairs mezcals and tequilas, some from her recently launched line of organic agave spirits, Doña Loca, with a menu of Mexico City street food. The menu features tasty bites like nopales fritos (charcoal tempura cactus with chipotle aioli) as well as main events like her guajillo-brined and roasted pollo adobado.
Rodriguez’s other restaurants include the trendy Super Mega Bien—where modern pan-Latin cuisine is served on small plates from turquoise dim sum carts inside The Ramble Hotel—and Work & Class, which has an American menu centered on meats by the pound and a community table fashioned from a conveyor belt.
In a cosmic turn last November, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone turned to Rodriguez to helm the reboot of the iconic pink palace on Colfax—as Casa Bonita’s executive chef and culinary partner.
Jose Avila uplevels Latin American cuisine PHOTO COURTESY OF LA DIABLA
Jose Avila was tapped by James Beard as a nominee for Best Chef: Mountain for his weekly pop-up, El Borrego Negro (@el_borrego_negro_), where he serves Hidalgo-style barbacoa handcarved from freshly butchered ranch-raised sheep. Inspired by Re:Vision, a nonprofit that helps communities cultivate urban gardens, Avila built his own hoyo in Denver’s Westwood neighborhood. His barbacoa is wrapped in maguey and slow roasted over a homemade sheep broth inside the hoyo, which is a sort of underground oven made with heated rocks. El Borrego Negro happens only on Sundays, and the barbacoa sells out quickly.
Pozole is a hearty stew that comes three ways— verde, blanco or rojo. PHOTO COURTESY OF LA DIABLA
Avila’s résumé includes partner and chef at Machete Tequila + Tacos and executive chef for Elway’s in Cherry Creek in the mid 2000s. Today, he is chef and owner of La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal (ladiabladenver.com) on Larimer, Denver’s first authentic pozoleria dedicated to the craft. Avila grew up eating pozole in Mexico City and wanted to bring the culture of that hearty corn-based stew to the Mile High City’s dining scene. To make his pozole, Avila employs a time-consuming process called nixtamalization, which involves repeatedly boiling the grain, in this case imported dry heirloom corn from Oaxaca. Diners choose different renditions of the pozole—verde, blanco or rojo—served with chicken or cabeza de cerdo (pig’s head).
Cody Cheetham brings authentic Italian cuisine to Denver PHOTO BY M. THURK PHOTOGRAPHY
This spring, executive chef Cody Cheetham of Tavernetta (tavernettadenver.com) bought a whole lamb from Buckner Farms, embracing the philosophy of whole animal butchery. “It strengthens our connections to local farmers,” Cheetham says. “We’ve been making dishes with off cuts, including braised shanks and garlic- and rosemary-rubbed shoulder.”
Located on the platform of Denver’s Union Station, Tavernetta (part of Frasca Hospitality Group) takes inspiration from old-world Italian recipes, blending classic ingredients with what’s seasonally available from local markets and purveyors. “We riff on paglia e fieno pasta (which translates to ‘straw and hay pasta’) with ramps and morels or asparagus, green garlic and pancetta,” Cheetham says.
Clam crudo at Tavernetta. PHOTO COURTESY OF TAVERNETTA
Cheetham spent a season cooking in Sorrento, Italy, and he brings a deep understanding of Italian culture and cuisine to Tavernetta’s menu. The restaurant has been pairing wines and dishes from various regions in Italy, starting with Alto Adige. “It helps the kitchen and wine teams work more closely and foster a better understanding of history, culture and why we cook what we do.”
On his first-ever James Beard nod: “When I heard that I’d been nominated, it felt like fake news,” Cheetham says. As he was making his way in the restaurant business, Cheetham worked with James Beard-nominated chefs like Paul Virant of Perennial Virant and restaurateurs like Chicago’s Shawn McClain. “The nominees were always world-class restaurants and famous chefs,” he says. “People I worked for—not me. It’s surreal.”