Zeal Introduces A New Chef

Former Greenbriar chef tackles & tweaks “clean” food menu.

001Zeal, a downtown Boulder restaurant catering to health-conscious food enthusiasts, opened November and developed a following from those allergic or averse to certain foods or food groups. Vegetarian? Zeal has many dishes for you, including sustainably harvested proteins of various kinds. Carnivore? They serve only pedigreed meats from grass-fed animals. Gluten-free? The only gluten is in the beer and the little spelt-flour bread that is served. Avoid processed foods or concerned about GMOs, pesticides and chemical fertilizers? Zeal is the restaurant for you. On the Paleo diet bandwagon? It’s easy at Zeal. Interested in the Conscious Cleanse? Jo Saalman and Julie Paleaz, authors of the bestselling book by the same name, are hosting a three-course, $39 Conscious Cleanse dinner at Zeal on November 11.

Zeal owner Wayde Jester at the chalkboard where the changing menu and the popular grab-and-go options are posted.
Zeal owner Wayde Jester at the chalkboard where the changing menu and the popular grab-and-go options are posted.
Leslie White, who joined Zeal after a stint at The Greenbriar. Being able to accommodate both restaurants' styles shows his versatility.
Leslie White, who joined Zeal after a stint at The Greenbriar. Being able to accommodate both restaurants’ styles shows his versatility.

From the beginning, Zeal has used whole fresh ingredients, served as simple flavorful combinations. But like many a new restaurant, Zeal has experienced some growing pains. In addition to the service glitches common to new restaurants, there has been turnover in the kitchen. It is on its third chef in less than a year. Opening chef Arik Markus had left by June, and his successor, Sean Smith, was replaced about a month ago by Leslie White (that’s a he-Leslie), who has made a rapid shift from the butter-and-cream kitchen of The Greenbriar to the “clean” ingredients used at Zeal. I don’t know any details about these changes, except to speculate that since founder/owner Wayde Jester, a prototypical Boulder endurance athlete, comes from the real estate realm and though a cooking enthusiast, didn’t have restaurant experience, the owner/chef combination has taken a few tries.

Zeal hosted a group of foodies and food bloggers to sample a few of White’s creations, plus artisanal cocktails, other adult beverages and the sensational cold-pressed juices.

Super-fresh cold-pressed juices in a rainbow of colors.
Super-fresh cold-pressed juices in a rainbow of colors. Juicing is a two-step process that can be seen through a window in a back corner of the restaurant.
Thai-style shrimp and tofu cradled in an endive leaf.
Thai-style shrimp and tofu cradled in an endive leaf.
Spicy eggplant puree in a hollowed cucumber.
Spicy eggplant puree in a hollowed cucumber with carrot and red cabbage slivers providing additional color contrasts.
It may be fall, but this is Zeal's spring mix salad with spiced pecans.
It may be fall, but this is Zeal’s spring mix salad with shredded carrots, spiced pecans and dressing on the side.
Cute bundles of sweetness, on this evening some orange-flavored and others pumpkin.
Cute bundles of sweetness, on this evening some orange-flavored and others pumpkin.

Zeal is participating in First Bite Boulder but has not yet posted its menu — perhaps to busy serving breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and recently added happy hour ($2 off beer, wine and spirits and $5 small plates). In addition to the popular bowls and sandwiches, Chef White is presenting more large and small plates and has brought dessert-making in-house. Zeal is pickling and fermenting in-house too (think kimchee and kombucha). During the warm months, the restaurant closed for two hours for Movement Mondays or Trailblazer Tuesdays so that staff and guests could go on a local hike. The concept might soon be transferred to a climbing gym or other indoor venue. And then there’s the Zeal food truck, which debuted at the Hanuman Yoga Festival and most likely dispatched to Uptown Denver, where Jester hopes to open a second restaurant. Stay tuned.

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6 thoughts on “Zeal Introduces A New Chef”

  1. The media event — passed hors d’ouevres and drinks rather than table service — does not reflect other people’s experiences at ZEAL. Another friend sent me the following E-mail:

    “Goodness no, I would not recommend Zeal as a special place for dinner out. The service was slow (friendly but very sparse and inattentive), which is made worse by the uncomfortable chairs. On the menu, the food looks healthy and great. In actuality, the food is decent but not stellar. I did like the cauliflower “rice” as a way to avoid carbs, and the veggies were good. I might go back because the menu really does offer healthy options, but I wouldn’t take an out-of-town friend there.

    “If you’re bringing your guests to see Pearl St. Mall, I’d recommend West Flanders Brewery (1125 Pearl) which is great for people-watching on the outdoor covered patio or upstairs tall-windowed dining area overlooking the mall. Their salad nicoise is consistently good, as is their trout dinner and Island Pizza. They brew their own beers on site, so if you have any craft beer fans in your group, they’ll definitely enjoy it.”

    1. Laurel – The plot thickens. It turns out that blogger Megan Bucholz (http://abouldertable.com) is married to Sean Smith, who was the ZEAL chef between Arick and Leslie, and that surely colored the tone of her post. She posted a decision to boycott the restaurant, and now I understand where her passionate critique came from. At the end of the post, she did write, “Disclaimer- Sean Smith is connected to A Bolder Table, so we are not just passionate about the issue, but know all of the unfortunate details.” A spousal connection is a tight one indeed. Given what I now have learned, I hope that owner Wayde Jester has taken the criticisms to heart and intend to give ZEAL another try.

      Still, there clearly are service issues, and hopefully, Wayde with his enthusiasm and Leslie with his experience at The Greenbriar, a very customer-oriented restaurant, will successfully tackle them. I’m still ready to give it the benefit of the doubt, and First Bite Boulder’s popularity will be a test both for the kitchen and the front-of-the-house service.

  2. Claire, nice to meet you at Zeal last week and thanks for writing about your visit and for channeling some of the comments out in the community. We are aware of our service mishaps and have been more assertive at trying to fix them, or at least not repeat them. I think we’ve learned to be a little more responsive to the causes and I’m encouraged that the changes we’ve made and the training we practiced recently will up our game. Let’s hope so. We love being able to serve our community delicious food that also happens to be good for the body and the soul, and I would hate to see that passion overshadowed by less than acceptable customer experiences.

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