Category Archives: Chef

James Beard & Denver: Perfect Together

I recently posted news that two Colorado chefs — Sean Yontz, owner/chef of Chama, consulting partner/chef at Mezcal and the newly opened Tambien, and Chris Douglas, owner/chef of Tula Latin Bistro — will be cooking at New York’s James Beard House on August 22. Their theme will be Contemporary Latin Celebration. I’ve since learned that Matt Mine, executive chef at Denver’s recently opened Oceanaire Seafood Room will be joining Oceanaire chefs from six other locations to present the Ultimate Seafood Expereience at the Beard House on September 5.

If you’re in Colorado, you don’t have to fly to New York for Beard House-worthy food, because on September 28, Denver will join 19 other U.S. cities to host the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America, a national food festival celebrating the foundation’s 20th anniversary and the legacy of James Beard. Twenty cities, 20 years — catch that?

The talented chefs participating in the “Colorado Cooks for James Beard” dinner will be Frank Bonanno, chef/owner of Denver’s Mizuna and Luca d’Italia; Tim Love, James Beard Award nominee and chef/owner the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Love Shack and Duce in Fort Worth, TX; Yasmin LozadaHissom, pastry chef at Duo in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood; Thomas Salamunovich, chef/owner of Larkspur in and the soon to open Watermark in Edwards; Alex Seidel, chef/owner of Denver’s Fruition, and Elise Wiggins, executive chef at Panzano, also in Denver. If you’re wondering how Texan Tim Love muscled his way into a Denver dinner, there is a Colorado connection. He worked his way to the helm of Uptown Bistro in Frisco, CO, where he was honored several times with foth the Taste of Breckenridge Grand Award and the Taste of the Mountains Award. It will be good to have him back, cooking in Colorado. Bobby Stuckey, James Beard Award Winner, master sommelier and co-owner of Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine, will pair wines with each course.

This fabulous event on September 28 will take place at Panzano at the Hotel Monaco, with cocktails beginning at 6:00 p.m. and dinner at 7:00 p.m. Tickets cost $125 per person, and can be purchased by calling 303-395-2677 or e-mail office@heedum.com. The James Beard Foundation will donate a portion of the proceeds from the dinner to Operation Frontline Colorado, a Share Our Strength program.

On Saturday the 29th, the Williams-Sonoma store in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center will host a free Frestival Day from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with cooking demonstrations and cookbook signings by award-winning chefs, children’s educational activities and tastings of artisanal products. Tim Love will do one of the demonstration, but the time has not yet been set. If you want to see him perform his culinary magic, call 303-394-2226 closer to the date.

Spago Coming to Colorado

Wolfgang Puck’s eateries have had mixed success in Colorado. His Wolfgang Puck Express at Denver International Airport keeps on rolling, but the Wolfgang Puck Grande Cafe at Denver’s Pavillions closed, and I have the impression that the Express in Black Hawk is not around anymore either. In fact, I think that the BlackHawk Casino by Hyatt where it was located is now Mountain High, run by Ameristar. And I write that “I think” this is the case, because I don’t really keep up with the casino scene — and I’m frankly not interested enough to dig into the topic. So set me straight if you know better.

In any case, the big news is that a new outpost of Spago, the flagship restaurant in Wolfgang Puck’s culinary fleet, is scheduled to open at the Ritz Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in November. It replaces the hotel’s previous fine-dining restaurant, Remington’s, which closed at the end of the 2006-07 ski season. Renowned New York designer Tony Chi has interwoven rustic and modern elements for the 126-seat Spago. Features are an open-oven kitchen, vegetable-dyed veneer walls and shutters, tables made of reclaimed oak timbers, framed art photography and custom sconces. I can’t really visualize the promise, from a press release, that, “Each booth will feature a dedicated clear glass service tower to maximize privacy and exclusivity,” and I am not sure how this relates to privacy and/or exclusivity, but I hope I’ll get a chance to find out.

The restaurant will employ the signature culinary philosophy called ‘Wolfgang’s Eating, Loving and Living’ (WELL) program: a commitment to sourcing from local family farmers and purveyors who support the humane treatment of animals and to offering products that meet te company’s natural, fresh and organic standards. When it debuts, Spago Bachelor Gulch will become the fourth extant Spago. In addition to the original in Beverly Hills, there’s a Spago in Las Vegas at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s and one on Maui at the Four Seasons Resort.

Wolfgang Puck has has become a brand, salting the culinary landscape with numerous “concepts” and offers abundant franchise opportunities, plus supermarket soups and cookware sold on television. He’s an engaging TV personality and a cookbook author. He’s a celebrity chef by any measure. The company that bears has name is subdivided into Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide and Wolfgang Puck Catering. Nevertheless, the top restaurants — Postrio in San Francisco and Las Vegas, Chinois on Main in Santa Monica and Las Vegas, and soon a quartet of Spagos.

Chef News from C-States

Colorado

Two Denver area chefs are heading for New York to cook at the James Beard House on August 22. Sean Yontz opened Tamayo for Richard Sandoval’s restaurant group and is now the owner/chef of Chama, consulting partner/chef at Mezcal and the newly opened Tambien. Chris Douglas is owner/chef of Tula Latin Bistro. The two-chef team plans a five-course dinner paired with an extremely rare Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, a Mexican distilled spirit made from the maguey plant, blending the bold flavors of Mexico, Spain and Central America overlaid with a Colorado flair. The dinner costs $125 for Beard members, $155 for all others. BTW, the Beard House has a no-tipping policy. If you wish to reserve, call 212-627-2308. If you’re in New York, or are simply curious, you can preview the menu on-line. Yontz and Douglas follow closely on the heels of Steven Topple of Beano’s Cabin at Beaver Creek, who prepared a pinot noir dinner there on August 9.

California

One of the best events during the four-day Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival will be the annual Blazing Pans Mountain Chef Cook-Off at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, September 15 at the Village at Northstar. The cooking competition will pit current two-time champion Chris Banovich of Big Wave Burritos in the Village at Northstar against Jacques Cornelis, executive chef at the Resort at Squaw Creek at Squaw Valley. The Iron Chef format gives chefs one hour to create as many dishes as possible using a secret ingredient to be unveiled when the clock starts ticking. Passport tickets for Saturday festivities cost $45 and access a day-long program of food and wine events, including the Blazing Pans Mountain Chef Cook-Off, “Today’s American Barbeque” with chef Larks Kronmark, a Gourmet Marketplace, Big Kids’ Cooking Camp with chef Lara Ritchie and a cooking demonstration with executive chef Roy Siegel of the Ritz Carlton, San Francisco. For festival tickets (and lodging, if needed) call 888-229-2193 or go to the festival website.

Connecticut

If only I had known, I would have alerted you earlier to the Taste of Hartford. Twenty-seven restaurants in the capital of my home state have been offering $20.07 dinners since August 5 and will do so until August 11. I love these Taste of…. events, because they enable locals and visitors alike to get a good dinner deal at favorite restaurants and also try new ones. Chefs get exposure with a new clientele and restaurants build traffic during slow times, so it’s a win-win format.

Upcoming Colorado Food Fests

Colorado foodies, or foodies visiting Colorado, have several food and wine events to choose from in the next few weeks. For multi-day events, inquire about special lodging rates.

Coming right up on Sunday, August 12, is the first annual Boulder Food & Wine Festival, which I previously wrote about. Scheduled from noon to 5:00 p.m., it features local restaurants’ creations using Colorado products and also a tasting of wines from Colorado wineries.


The Crested Butte Wild Mushroom Festival, that promises “to put the fun back in fungus,” takes place August 16-19 with a variety of specialized forays, workshops, cooking demonstrations/luncheons, a treasure hunt foray for youngsters aged six to 13 and experts on mushroom stuff. Visitors can by a three-day festival pass ($119.50), one-day pass ($49.50) or admission to individual events ($35-$39.50).

Saturday, August 18, is the annual Lafayette Peach Festival. Admission is free to the fruit-oriented street festival that takes place along three blocks of South Public Road. Admittedly, this hasn’t been the best year for Colorado’s fabled stone fruits, but organizers expect Palisade’s Morton’s Orchards to bring in 30,000 pounds of fresh, organic freestone peaches. The festival anticipates serving 4,500 servings of peach cobbler and 500 peach pies prepared by Hanna’s Specialty Foods and 2,500 peach smoothies. Other attractions include antiques and craft sales and children’s activities.

In southwestern Colorado, the Mesa Verde Wine and Art Festival takes place August 24-26 with wine tastings ($20 on festival day, $15 in advance) and wine maker dinners ($75) at the Metate Room in Mesa Verde National Park’s Far View Lodge and Joey’s Restaurant in Dolores. Guy Drew Vineyards in Cortez hosts an open house with live music on Sunday the 26th from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and that day, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the Dawg Days Chili Cookoff takes place at the Cortez Cultural Center. Something for everyone.

September 7-9 is the first Colorado Fest … Celebrating Colorado’s Food, Wine, Beer & Art in Gunnison and Crested Butte. The weekend begins on Friday evening in Gunnison with a free art gallery crawl, live music and a food and wine reception at the Gunnison Arts Center with David S. Carbonetti of Mountain Sommeliers and two Colorado winemakers ($11 in advance on-line, $15 at the door). The weekend in Gunnison, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte offers food and wine pairings, a wine tasting with Colorado foods under the cottonwood trees, a beer festival and chili cook-off and a farmers market. Local restaurants offer fixed-price dinner menus of Colorado-only products and guests can participate in hands-on pottery and cooking classes, music and more. Other ticket prices range from $7 for Breakfast with a Viking Chef (Saturday morning) to $65 for a wine-maker dinner at the Timberline Restaurant (Sunday evening). Go to the festival’s website or call 877-448-1399 for reservations or more information.
A Taste of Colorado, the annual Labor Day Weekend extravaganza of food and entertainment, takes over Denver’s Civic Center Park from August 31 to September 3. Admission is free. Visitors pay for carnival rides, food and beverages — and of course, whatever crafts and other items they purchase. Hours are Friday,11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The 16th annual Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade is an enduring and increasingly popular event that has grown up with the Colorado wine industry. The showcase for the Rocky Mountain Association of Vintners & Viticulturists is coming on September 13-16, with such activities as hands-on workshops of various sorts, wine and food pairings, dueling chef competitions, grape stomps, winery tours, winemaker competitions, a chocolate tasting, wine-maker dinners, a bicycle tour of the vineyards and more. The first-class VIP Pass is $140; individual event tickets range from $35 for a seminar on grape growing to $120 for a golf and wine package. Check the schedule or buy tickets online or for more information, call 970-464-0111 and 800-704-3667.

It is fitting that the epicurean summer that started with the 25th Annual Food & Wine Classic at Aspen wraps up with another prestigious festival at another luxurious mountain resort. The new Beaver Creek Wine and Spirits Festival, September 13-15, features visiting celebrity chefs and winners of the San Francisco International Wine Competition and San Francisco World Spirits Competition who will pair food, wine and spirits. Wine authority Anthony Dias-Blue, who also runs those San Francisco beverage competitions, and chefs Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys, Richard Sandoval of Modern Mexican Restaurants (including Tamayo and Zengo in Denver) and Joseph Manzare of Zuppa, plus selected Beaver Creek chefs. will be on hand. Unusual offers include “Walk and Wine,” an outdoor experience pairing a wildflower hike led by experienced guides followed by a three-course wine pairing luncheon ($75), and “Fly Fish/Eat Fish” combining fly fishing instruction and a three-course seafood luncheon ($200). Renowned comedian Craig Shoemaker will provide plenty of laughs during a live “Cocktails and Comedy” performance at the Vilar Center for the Arts ($35). Seminars ($45), a grand tasting ($60) and a fabulous dinner at Splendido at the Chateau ($75) round up the festival. Tickets can be ordered from 970-845-TIXS.

Seeking Pastry Chef Amy DeWitt

Sometimes I feel a bit like a detective, solving the questions of where popular chefs went, especially when I receive a request like this: “This may be a long shot, but do you know how to contact Amy Dewitt – previous owner of the Cream Puffery and former pastry chef at Jill’s? I had a phone # and email from 2005, but neither work now. The St Julien seemed to think she left to start her own business, but I can’t find any info by googling or the phonebook. I’m hoping she’s still baking the best tortes in the world, but I can’t seem to find her. Any ideas?”

I don’t know about her new business, but I do know that Amy taught a pastry class at the Culinary School of the Rockies as recently as late June. You might ask marketing director Karen Barela (karen@culinaryschoolrockies.com or 303-494-7988). If you find Amy, let us all know where she’s landed or what her new enterprise might be.

"No Reservations" — The Latest Food Flick


“No Reservations” is the name of two current media properties: a TV show on the Travel Channel during which witty author-chef Anthony Bourdain travels around the world in search of culinary and cultural experiences and a movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart and Abigail Breslin. The movie is about a beautiful, rigid, authoritarian but talented chef (Zeta-Jones as Kate) and the two unexpected individuals who enter her life, her orphaned nine-year-old neice (Breslin as Zoe) who comes to live with her and a handsome, hunky, impetuous and also talented sous-chef (Eckhart as Nick) hired to work under her. The movie was panned, but I liked it anyway because:

  • I like food movies. This one includes just enough tantalizing food shots and food chat to keep foodies happy.
  • I like restaurant movies, even though this one shows chefs in spotless whites even well into evening service.
  • I like chick flicks because they have no car chases, no car crashes, no blood and gore, no guns, no bombs, no graphic murders, etc. The most violent aspects to this film were a crate of dead fish and a couple of dead quail, and the scene where Kate accidentally set the hem of her apron on fire.
  • I like anything that encourages parents and children to be an adventurous eating family. In the beginning, Zoe was pretty picky, but once she spent time in the restaurant, vacuuming down Nick’s spaghetti and started cooking with him, she became a little epicure.
  • I like movies about New York because I don’t live there anymore. In cinematic New York, there are no traffic jams and there’s always a parking space in front of the building (even for Nick’s big pickup truck — which there aren’t many of in New York either).
  • I like movies with happy endings, because there’s so much bad news in the real world.

Feasting, Faking, the FTC — and A Food Icon

This week’s local newspapers are a motherlode of food info — and it hasn’t just been fluffery.

The Feast
Denver Post restaurant critic Tucker Shaw is one lucky duck. In today’s food section, he wrote about a mega-multi-course feast prepared by Opus Restaurant chef Michael Long for him and a handful of selected epicures with each course featuring at least Colorado one. In “A 25-Course Colorado Blowout,” he described the meal that was a tribute not just to Colorado ingredients but also to “the now-legendary 31-course meal created three decades ago at Paris’ Chez Denis by revered Chef Claude Mornay for New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne and celeb-chef Pierre Franey — a decadent feast of foie gras, truffles, sweetbreads, and taboo orlotans that was so decadent (and so well-reported) that the Vatican called it ‘scandalous’ — Long said he wanted to create a similarly elaborate, extravagant circus of a repast, 30 courses in all, each constructed from Colorado ingredients.”

Perhaps with just 25 rather than 30 or 31 courses, the Vatican will not pass judgment on Long’s creation — or perhaps everyone is so accustomed to excess now (mega-mansions, enormous cars, ultra-luxury resorts, supersized people) that it most likely didn’t raise a papal eyebrow. Post photographer Glenn Asakawa documented each dish in gorgeous, artistic shots, and I wonder whether he was allowed a nibble now and again too. From the website, you can see his beautiful images and also a video showing the gorgeous plating of the feast.

Of the evening, Shaw wrote, “Regarded from a distance, or at least from the semi-reclining position I found myself in as I slumped my way through the last bites of corn pudding, I had no doubt that Chef Michael had succeeded in his dual missions. He’d cleared his own high bar, producing an astonishingly daring dinner, and he’d proven beyond question the possibilities that burst from the wealth of ingredients we Coloradans have under our own noses. When I stumbled out the door six or so hours after sitting down, spent and sated and semi-conscious, I knew I’d just participated in a never-before, never-again, crazy-wonderful piece of art.”

The Food Fakery
Boulder Daily Camera food editor Cindy Sutter wrote an eye-opening expose called “Meaty Concerns,” reporting on how big-time grocers tamper that process meat in central facilities and shrink-wrap it tamper with it to make it more tender and more appealing.

She wrote about “modified atmosphere packaging — a process in which gases that can include oxygen, carbon dioxide and/or carbon monoxide are pumped into the package. The gases cause the meat to ‘bloom’ and turn bright red, an oxidizing process that happens naturally when beef is exposed to air. The packages, however, keep the atmosphere constant, so beef stays red for its entire shelf-life, even if it has passed the recommended use-by date.” She wrote about brining, in which meats are injected with a flavor solution generally made of water, broth, salt, flavorings and sodium phosphate to keep the meat moist and juicy during cooking.”

She wrote about “carbon monoxide…The Food and Drug Administration allowed certain meat processors to use carbon monoxide in meat packaging through a practice called ‘generally recognized as safe’ or GRAS. The European Union banned the use of carbon monoxide with meat and tuna in 2003. The gas is frequently used with fresh tuna, as with meat, because it gives the fish a bright red color. Media reports in 2006 said that Wal-Mart has test-marketed low oxygen packaging, which uses a carbon monoxide-oxygen mix, on meat in some of its stores.” Heck, isn’t carbon monoxide poisonous? Thanks again, FDA and Wal-Mart.

“King Soopers,” Sutter reported, “processes and packages all its meat for the Front Range at a central Denver facility. Each package is individually wrapped in the traditional way with plastic wrap over a tray, meaning that any air in the package is what occurs naturally in the atmosphere. Those packages are placed in bulk in a ‘mother wrap’ that has an 80 percent oxygen-20 percent carbon dioxide mix and shipped to stores. The company does not use carbon monoxide in any of its packaging…King Soopers brines some of its pork, which is sold under the label Moist and Tender.”

The Consumer Federation of America has raised alarm bells about these practices, but they hit close to home when a local newspaper shines the spotlight on them. Sutter reported that Whole Foods, Wild Oats and such old-time butchers as Boulder’s Herb’s Meats “sell meats directly from the case” and wrap them in butcher paper to order for each customer.

The FTC
Speaking of Whole Foods and Wild Oats, even as one government agency (the FDA) is permitting such Wal-Mart to do stuff to food that can’t possibly be good for us, another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, is “concerned” about the possible merger of these two natural/organic grocers as being anti-competitive. In fact, the feds have filed suit in Federal Court to determine “whether to block the $565 million acquisition of Boulder-based Wild Oats by Whole Foods Market,” as the Camera reported in a page-one story called “FTC, Grocers State Cases.”

I frankly don’t know whether the merger of would be good or bad for consumers, but I do know that this holdup is bad for one restaurant that is a local institution. According to yet another Camera story, “Laudisio Sues Twenty Ninth Street,” the owners of the restaurant “are suing the Twenty Ninth Street mall, saying they’ve lost more than $1 million because developers misrepresented how much business the new shopping center would see….With a planned Wild Oats headquarters sitting empty indefinitely, nearly a year’s worth of delays in the opening of a 16-screen movie theater and delays in the opening of several other restaurants at Twenty Ninth Street, the promised customers haven’t materialized, the lawsuit says. ‘Based on the negligent misrepresentations by the landlord [developer and owner Macerich Company], the restaurant has not been, nor will it be, exposed to the represented foot traffic, and therefore all the financial projections upon which the restaurant project have been based, as well as investment and commitments made, are now inaccurate,’ the suit says.”

This lawsuit filed in Boulder County District Court will not have the national impact of the decision of the merger between the two grocery chains, but locally, it is a big deal indeed.

The Food Icon
The Rocky Mountain News ran an interview that Natalie Haughton of the Los Angeles Daily News conducted with the legendary Jacques Pepin, one of the first celebrity chefs in this country. He was promoting his gorgeous book, Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $45) and when asked whether he expects people really to use it to cook from, he replied, “After writing the recipe down, I explain the recipe as I would if I were talking to a friend. So it leaves the cook with more freedom so he can interpret the recipe and make it his own. My goal is to excite the imagination rather than set limits in a structured recipe.” The 71-year-old who has done so much to enlighten American cooks and epicures noted, “As you grow older, you eat less of one thing, more of another. . . . You get less complicated in your cooking. You take away from the plate rather than adding to the plate.”