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Colorado chefs making mark in New York’s restaurant scene

A writer for New York Eater, the national website that has a Denver version (www.denver.eater.com), has tracked the culinary trek of Colorado chefs who have packed their knives and migrated to The Big Apple.

While writer Nick Solares highlights the Colorado kitchen careers of a number of chefs who practiced their craft at The Little Nell in Aspen and Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder in particular, the story had a glaring omission – my son, On the Town Junior.

Mackenzie Parker Harden moved to New York City more than a year ago to pursue a performing arts career, but fell back on the restaurant training he received at Elway’s, El Diablo and (as a sage) at TAG, and landed a server job at Maialino, a much-lauded jewel in the crown of the Union Square Hospitality Group, helmed by noted restaurateur Danny Meyer.

Having said that, the Eater New York story follows New York City’s Colorado culinary connections.

The story says, “Right now, New York City is full of talented chefs and sommeliers that either grew up in Colorado or spent years working there. Two establishments in particular — the culinary program of The Little Nell resort in Aspen and Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder — have had numerous former employees go on to prominent positions in NYC restaurants. Among those are Dustin Wilson, the sommelier at Eleven Madison Park, Sabato Sagaria, chief restaurant officer for Union Square Hospitality Group and seemingly the entire staff of Charlie Bird, to name but a few.

“Is Colorado turning into a farm system for NYC kitchens? Is this just a strange coincidence? Or is there, in fact, a Colorado connection? Eater talked with some of the state’s notable expats to find out just why, exactly, so many talented hospitality professionals are migrating from Colorado to New York.

“Colorado is in many ways the quintessential western state, and the resourcefulness and spirit of independence that were such driving forces in the migration across the plains still manifest themselves there. ‘It’s hard to live in Colorado if you are not a motivated person,’ says Ryan Hardy, chef and owner of Charlie Bird in NYC. Originally from Kentucky, Hardy spent a decade in Colorado before moving to New York and opening his own restaurant. He has played a role in the cross-pollination of restaurant cultures between the two places, bringing others from Colorado, such as Grant Reynolds, the wine director at Charlie Bird, with him.

“Hardy moved to Colorado in 1999 after graduating  business school and deciding that he would rather cook beans than count them. A brief stint in culinary school proved to be fruitless. ‘It was like business school with knives,’ says Hardy. Instead the chef worked in every restaurant he could, eventually landing at Rustic Bistro in Aspen.

20140506-001-Colorado2.jpg“‘The lifestyle is incredible,’says Matt Aita (pictured left), chef of Le Philosophe, who worked in Colorado in the early 2000s before moving to NYC mid-decade. Aita planned on visiting Colorado for only two weeks, but found it so ‘gorgeous’ that he ended up staying for five years.

“Sabato Sagaria, currently the chief restaurant officer for Union Square Hospitality Group, moved to Colorado on a whim, after working at the renowned Inn at Little Washington in Virginia. He gave little consideration to the leisure aspects of the state, but soon became enraptured by the lifestyle. ‘You know you are in a special place when you keep your snowboard in your office,’ he says. ‘The minute you walk out your door you hop on your bike or snowboard, and you’re in the fresh air and wilderness.’

20140426-001-Colorado3.jpg“Reynolds, for his part, moved to Colorado to attend UC at Boulder (oops!) and to pursue skiing, which he did competitively for much of his life. ‘Colorado has it all in outdoor sports,’ he says. ‘The lifestyle is epic,’ concurs Dustin Wilson (pictured right), currently wine director at Eleven Madison Park and a veteran of both Frasca Food & Wine and The Little Nell. Wilson ended up in Colorado with the intent of ‘goofing off’ for a couple of years after graduating college, before he planned to enter graduate school. As an avid skier, his principle job requirement was that he wanted to work nights, so that he could hit the slopes during the day. Wilson had acquired the wine bug while working at a steakhouse, and had even begun taking classes back east in his native Maryland. But a chance meeting with Bobby Stuckey, master sommelier and owner of Frasca Food & Wine, led to job and a lengthy stint that saw him go from server to sommelier at the restaurant. From there he moved on to The Little Nell, eventually became a Master Sommelier himself, and landed his dream job at EMP.

“Bobby Stuckey … joined The Little Nell in 1995 as a sommelier, garnering numerous awards for wine and service. In 2000, he went on to work at The French Laundry with Thomas Keller and then returned to Colorado to open Frasca Food & Wine in August 2004.

Owen Clark grew up in Baysville, Co. He made it to Boulder after Frasca was firmly established, and was duly impressed. The chef explains: ‘I was like ‘Oh boy! That’s the place I want to work.’ He didn’t end up working at Frasca, but by attending the culinary school he got to travel to France and eventually landed in NYC at the ill-fated Gwynnett St.

“But aside from a profound culture of food and wine, there is clearly another affinity between NYC and Colorado: adrenalin. ‘There is a similar intensity to the people (in NYC and Colorado) — they work hard and play harder. Aspen really is a little bit of New York City in the mountains,’ says Hardy. Sabato draws a more visceral comparison. ‘You are standing at the top of a double diamond looking down, asking yourself ‘Can I do that?’ And then you just jump in, that’s the same mentality you need when coming to NY.

“Ultimately, the chefs and sommeliers in question moved to NYC because of professional opportunities. ‘There is no doubt that NYC is the center of the wine universe,’ says Wilson. ‘But Colorado is my second home.’ Aita, now married with children, still misses the place and looks forward to returning. ‘It would be amazing to bring my wife and kids out there,’ he says. As much as Hardy loved it out there, he feels that the ‘economics work better’ when running a restaurant in NYC. Sabato has another theory: ‘Colorado is way too beautiful and everyone got sick of it and said let’s move to NY,’ he quips.”


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There’s a new Teddy in town at Denver Zoo

Denver Zoo, in partnership with Children’s Colorado, unveiled its new mascot Sunday at the Zoo’s first Teddy Bear Care Fair.

Elbert, a 6-foot-tall 300-pound bear, debuted by pulling a wagon full of plush versions of himself at the Zoo’s Explore the Shore Play Area, presented by Children’s Colorado. After his introduction, families were invited to take stuffed animals around the Zoo for “medical procedures.”

“We are so excited to mark another important milestone in our longstanding partnership with the Denver Zoo,” said Jena Hausmann, chief operating officer, Children’s Colorado. “We look forward to the joy Elbert will bring our patients through regular visits each month.”

Elbert, named after the highest mountain in Colorado, doesn’t belong to an official species, but was born in the Rocky Mountains. He’s known for his soft brown fur, bright smile and heart-shaped patch of fur on his chest. With favorite foods of fish, fruits and vegetables and hobbies such as dancing, hiking and skiing, Elbert loves to promote healthy eating, kid safety, caring for animals and an active lifestyle.

This was the first Teddy Bear Care Fair  hosted at Denver Zoo. Together with Children’s Colorado, Zoo staff handed out plush mascots to the first 1,000 kids and certificates of health at check-in to all children who visited the Explore the Shore Play Area. Children and families were able to walk around the zoo to different stations all day so volunteers and staff could provide X-rays, bear limb casting and other medical procedures to stuffed animals.

“Denver Zoo is proud to have Children’s Colorado as a sponsor of our Explore the Shore Play Area, and as a partner for several community programs,” said Denver Zoo President and CEO Shannon Block. Our partnership is such a natural fit and our new mascot will enable us to continue to provide for children from the region.”

(Denver Zoo photo)

(Denver Zoo photo)

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Tavern restaurants fire up fantasy football draft

Are you ready for some faux football?

The eight Tavern restaurants throughout the metro area are rolling out the annual Fantasy Football Draft Party promotion beginning Friday at all locations. At $120 per party for unlimited draft beer, the Draft Party provides a discount deal for groups planning their NFL draft picks.

Draft parties at each neighborhood Tavern will receive unlimited draft beer for a two-hour period for up to 12 people at $120 per party.   The promotion is valid from Friday through Sept. 4 (not valid Fridays after 4 p.m.) and reservations must be made in advance.  Space is based on availability.  Free high-speed Wi-Fi is available at all locations.

Tavern owner Frank Schultz said, “This is our sixth year to offer our draft party special. Some of our regulars even started calling us in the spring to make sure we were doing it again. Although we’re fortunate to have a lot of guests who already consider us their football headquarters, we hope to encourage new groups to think of us when choosing a place to watch their favorite teams.  This special is an opportunity to bring people in who have never been to a Tavern.”

For Fantasy Football Draft Party reservations at any neighborhood Tavern location (Uptown, Downtown, Lowry, Tech Center, Wash Park or Littleton), call 303-226-1555.  Additionally, as the football season begins, guests will be able to enjoy the Tavern’s football food specials: one dollar pizza rolls, one-dollar boneless buffalo wings, $1.50 classic sliders.  These football food specials will be offered beginning with preseason games from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday and Thursday.

For more information, visit www.tavernhg.com.


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Rizzi goes from the fairway to the altar

Jon Rizzi, Colorado AvidGolfer magazine’s founding editor, recently tied the proverbial knot with Jo Anne Grant Harada, a yoga instructor and employee at Youth in Action, a student exchange program to and from Japan.

Rizzi, a mid-handicap golfer and prolific writer for the magazine, is one of the nicest journalists I’ve ever had the privilege of calling my friend.

Marriage couldn’t happen to a sweeter couple. Congratulations to both of you.



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Christie stumps for Beauprez at Denver diner

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in town last week stumping for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, milling among “the people” at Sam’s No. 3 diner in downtown Denver.

Christie and Beauprez reportedly ordered the Bash Hickenlooper Burger off the menu (just kidding).

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Laugh line: Today’s eavesdropping

Eavesdropping on two women: “I used to think Steve Winwood was cute but then he got all wrinkled and old.”

“They all do.”

“Not Mick Jagger.”

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Denver Union Station ready for its close up

If you work, live or play in LoDo, you’ve dealt with the noise and flying cranes squawking around the Denver Union Station redevelopment near 17th and Wynkoop.

Now, it’s time to celebrate the newest jewel in Denver’s development crown. The official Denver Union Station Grand Opening Celebration will be feted with a street festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Presented by FirstBank, this free community celebration will feature food trucks, vendors, family activities and live music. Rachel and the Kings will take the stage at 10:45 a.m., followed by Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers at 12:30 p.m. and The Railbenders at 2 p.m.

The official Denver Union Station opening ceremony will be held at noon by the Union Station Alliance partners.

The public is invited to tour the $54 million revitalization of Denver Union Station, which is now home to The Crawford Hotel and a custom-crafted group of 13 Colorado restaurants and retailers.

To help manage the large crowds that are expected, tickets will be issued for building access between noon and 8 p.m., based on demand. Free tickets will be available at the street festival until 3 p.m. Time stamped tickets are available at www.altitudetickets.com/mobile/event/denver-union-station-grand-opening-celebration/2148 for a$1 processing free, which also guarantees your chosen time of entry.

Event sponsors include FirstBank, Schomp Automotive, AOR Inc., Coors Brewing Co., Republic National Distributing Co., Pepsi, CBS4, DaVita, University of Colorado Health, University of Colorado at Denver, SunShare and Uber.

For more information, visit http://unionstationindenver.com/grandopening/.

(Ellen Jaskol photos )

(Ellen Jaskol photos )Denver Union Station, July 9, 2014.  Photo by Ellen Jaskol Crawford Loft bathroom small EDJ_6266 Denver Union Station brunch, July 12, 2014.  Photo by Ellen Jaskol Denver Union Station Great Hall Ellen Jaskol DUS night exterior

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Chihuly adds new pieces to Botanic Gardens exhibit

New and additional works of art have been added to the Chihuly glass art exhibition on display through Nov. 30 at The Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St.

Several more groupings of garden glass have been added to the installation in the O’Fallon Perennial Walk. Also, more Cattails and newly created Floats were added to the Saffron Tower installation in the Ellipse Garden.

Following artist Dale Chihuly’s visit to the Gardens for the exhibition opening, the artist – as he likes to do – decided to make a few modifications to make the exhibition even better.

Hours for viewing the Chihuly exhibition are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (last entry at 8 p.m.) through Sept. 28. Hours Sept. 29 through Nov. 30 are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

For advance tickets, go to www.botanicgardens.org.

 Dale Chihuly, "Saffron Tower", 2008 with "Cattails" and "Niijima Floats", 2014. Denver Botanic Gardens

Dale Chihuly, “Saffron Tower”, 2008 with “Cattails” and “Niijima Floats”, 2014. Denver Botanic Gardens


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