Category Archives: Chef

Exotic New Restuarant in Iceland

Top Nordic chef’s dramatic cuisine switch to North Africa & the Middle East. 

Sumac Grill + Drinks is a new restaurant in Reykjavik specializing in Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine. That’s kind of a gee-whiz piece of news, but what makes it really remarkable is that it is the brainchild of Þráinn Freyr Vigfússon, one of Iceland’s star chefs. He is former head chef of the highly regarded Lava Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon restaurant and coach of the national Icelandic cooking team.

Chef Þráinn Freyr Vigfússon in front of the steaming waters of the Blue Lagoon.

This is quite a departure for Vigfússon, who is known as a pioneer of New Nordic cuisine with really sterling creds — Iceland Chef of the Year (2007); One World Culinary Chef Competition, gold medal (2008); Nordic Chef of the Year, silver medal (2009); World Culinary Cup, two gold medals (2014). He and culinary partner and head chef Hafsteinn Ólafsson, Þráinn curated a savory menu that brings together Icelandic traditions and the exotic flare from the coastline of North Africa and the Middle East. What an interesting mix — and I report it here because I am very fond of Iceland.

Sumac Grill + Drinks brings a new flavor to the Reykjavik restaurant scene.  Related Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine are characterized by fried foods with exotic spices, yogurt sauce, marinated eggs, eggplant, hummus, pomegranates and more.

The name of the restaurant comes from the berry, Sumac, which when left out in the sun to dry, can be used as a fragrant spice that adds a “clean astringency and citrus tang to the dish.” Sumac’s bar also includes an extensive wine and cocktail list, naturally including drinks featuring Reyka Vodka, Iceland’s award-winning vodka brand. Click  here for the menu.

The restaurant is located at Laugavegur 28 in downtown Reykjavik.

Denver Food/Wine Fest Next Weekend

Showcase for cuisine, wine & spirits.

2016 dates on this logo.

The 13th annual Denver Food + Wine Festival  starts with Barbecue, a food film, at the Sie Film Center on September 5 and concludes on the 10th with the Rise + Dine brunch. The glamour event, of course, is Saturday’s  Grand Tasting on the Pepsi Center grounds, featuring 700 international wines and some 40 Denver restaurants. Lead sponsors at  Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Colorado and the Colorado Restaurant Association. In between are The Shakedown (a bartender competition), a six-course dinner under the stars at Coohill’s Restaurant and the always informative Riedel Wine Glass seminar. Click here for the schedule and here to purchase tickets.

New Executive Chef at Gateway Canyons

Hartwell now heads culinary team at luxe resort in western Colorado.  

I’ve never been to, much less dined at, the Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, a world-class destination practically at the Utah state line. But I’m impressed at the credentials of the new executive chef. Thomas Hartwell has accepted position at the resort in the spectacular Unaweep Canyon. Its remoteness alone is a challenge, and so are  the five dining facilities (Entrada, Paradox Grille, Kiva Café Cantina and Duesey’s Diner) with different styles. The combination is a challenge.

Like other leading chefs, Hartwell began his restaurant career modestly, first as a prep cook and busboy at the Stage Door Restaurant outside Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  After holding several positions at various restaurants in his home state of Michigan, he moved to Santa Rosa, California to join the team at Restaurant Matisse, a French-inspired California cuisine restaurant under the guidance of Chef Michael Hirschberg.  From there, he landed a coveted internship at Michelin-starred Land Hoff in Solingen, Germany.   

Chef Robert Hartwell

Over the years, Hartwell also held culinary positions at The Westin Copley Place in Boston and at the historic Boston Park Plaza Hotel under Chef Roland Z.  He then opened his own restaurant, The Old Stone Farm House, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Prior to joining the team at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, Hartwell served as chef de cuisine at the Meritage Hotel and Resort in Napa and also  the popular restaurant, Zuzu, in downtown Napa for four years.  

The elegant adobe-style resort, offering a whole lot more than just food and scenery, has enjoyed recognition beyond our red-rock country. Among its awards, in 2017 it was named the #3 “Best Resort in the West” in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards competition, #52 in the Top 100 Hotels in the World category and #11 in the Top 15 Resort Hotels in the Continental United States category. Seems as if Gateway Canyons and Chef Hartwell are a good match. And perhaps I will get there someday.

Colorado Chefs in Colombia

I don’t usually do follow-up picture posts, but I was so tickled that two Colorado chefs were invited to cook at a culinary festival in Barranquilla, Colombia, that I wrote a post.  Diane Coohill sent me this picture from opening day of the festival. After this, she and Chef Tom are going on a trek to Everest base camp in Nepal. Classic Coloradans!

From left, Tom Coohill and Diane Coohill of Coohill’s in Denver, and Daniel Asher of River & Woods in Boulder at a gastronomic festival in Barranquilla, Colombia.

Potato Day & Potato Fest

Celebrating the spud nationally and in Colorado.

Today, August 19, is National Potato Day — right between National Fajita Day (yesterday) and World Humanitarian Day (tomorrow).  Potato promoters offer up statistics and recipes galore, but for Coloradans, the real celebration is Saturday, September 9 when the annual Colorado Potato Festival takes place in the San Luis Valley.

Monte Vista in the southern part of the valley hosts the festival in Chapman Park (4 Chico Camino, Monte Vista), 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day is filled with mostly FREE fun activities and events like the Tater Trot 5K Race, music, crafts, guided tours, kids’ games, chef demos using freshly harvested Colorado potatoes, the infamous Mashed Potato Dunk Tank and more.

There’s a free four-hour bus tour of the valley’s potato farms  and shipping centers and two one-hour train tours, also free  courtesy of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad.  Contact the Colorado Potato Assn. (719-852-3322) to reserve spots on the bus. but you can just show up for the train. It departs from Fullenwider Park, so there’s a free tractor-pulled shuttle between the two parks.

At 5 p.m., a concert by country star Brooke Eden takes place at the Ski Hi Park Arena, 2331 Sherman Ave., Monte Vista. Tickets are just 15. Purchase on-line before August 25 and be automatically entered into a drawing for four tickets to Coors Field for the Rockies versus the Diamondbacks and parking.

Two Colorado Chefs to Cook in Colombia

Tom Coohill and Daniel Asher at gastronomic fest.

Tom Coohill, chef and co-owner of the Denver restaurant that bears his name, and Daniel Asher of Boulder’s River & Woods  recently made their second trip this year to Washington, D.C., to work with Plate of the Union, a food advocacy organization that is working to address hunger issues through the 2018 Farm Bill.

Soon they are heading to South America for the 10th annual El Sabor Barranquilla Gastronomic Festival in Barranquilla, Colombia, August 25-27. They will demonstrate cooking techniques and participate in culinary forums using his recipes and the Colombian region’s ingredients.

El Sabor Barranquilla is a three-day event focusing on the foods of the Caribbean, with cooking demonstrations and contests, forums exploring biodiversity, sustainability, culinary techniques and advances, and a variety of dishes cooked by chefs from around the world.

 “A crew came out from SaborUSA TV last year to film at the restaurant, and things went so well that they reached out for this event,” says Chef Tom, who will be accompanied by his wife and Coohills co-owner Diane Coohill. “They’re flying me and Daniel down there, and as we proved in D.C. recently, Daniel and I work well together. So, I think this is a great opportunity to have a really cool cultural exchange through food.” 

Unlikely Spot for Fine Pizza

Audrey Jane’s puts out terrific pies.

The east side of Boulder’s Community Plaza Shopping Center is an unlikely place for a pizzeria. It’s not the side with the Broadway and the parking lot. Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage is run by Audrey Sherman (San Francisco, New York, Italy and culinary school in her past). BTW, there’s no garage in sight in case you are wondering.

We went there on a warm summer evening, hankering for a pizza. The store had a typical pared-down, brightly lit pizzeria look. The patio was the more appealing option for us. We shared and half-and-half pizza, a satisfying East Coast-style pie. There’s no adult beverage license, but my desire for a tannic Italian red was satisfied when we went around to the Boulder Wine Merchant on the Community Plaza’s other side for a couple of bottles, and they happened to be holding a tasting of Italian wines. The pizza and wine were therefore sequential rather than consecutive.

Half veggie, half Spicy Pig on a thin crust with an undulating puffy edge that show a bit of char– just as it should be..

Price check: $14 for a 14-inch cheese pie to $26 for a 20-inch New York pie.

2675 Thirteenth Street, Boulder:  303-442-2032.