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Some professional chefs never intended to cook professionally.
Exhibit A: Marvin Bronstein, who won Denverites' hearts as well as their stomachs with his brief stint at the coincidentally named Marvin Gardens in the mid-'90s. Fifteen years before, he'd been a nurse practitioner working in the pediatrics department at the University of Utah when he was sent to New Orleans for a medical conference. Upon his return, he gave the hospital his notice -- after twelve years in the health-care business.
"I had an epiphany," says Bronstein, who now runs the kitchen at Restaurant on the Ridge, at the Meadow Ridge Club in Fraser. "I was sitting in a restaurant there, and suddenly I realized, 'Oh, my God, there's all this incredible food out there, and I could be making it.' The food just blew me away, and I realized I wanted to be involved in putting it together."
Bronstein had always enjoyed cooking at home -- as the oldest of six kids, he often helped his working parents prepare meals -- but until that trip to New Orleans, it had never occurred to him that he could pursue cooking as a vocation. "So here I was, 33 years old, and I had found my calling," he says. "I just knew, so deep in my heart, that that's what I was meant to do."
To turn this knowledge into a career, he started working at the bottom of the food chain at restaurants around Salt Lake. Soon, though, he realized he needed to move on. "I knew I had to get to an on-the-map culinary town," he explains. "If I was going to get some real cooking experience, I had to go somewhere else to get it." Since his parents lived in Los Angeles, he moved there, over the next six years cooking in as many eateries as he could before he finally opened his own place: the State Beach Cafe in Santa Monica, right on Will Rogers State Beach.
"I thought my dream had really come true," he says. "But then I got eaten by the earthquake of '94." The restaurant went belly-up -- literally -- as the tremors demolished his section of the beach. "I didn't get discouraged, though," he adds. "My sister was living in Colorado and loving it, and I'd visited and enjoyed it a lot, too. So I came to Denver to give the restaurants there a try."
He started with Marvin Gardens, briefly located in a strip mall at South Monaco Parkway and Evans Avenue (today the space is occupied by Bruno's Italian Bistro). Bronstein next headed north to the Peaceful Valley Guest Ranch in Lyons, then moved on to the Regal Harvest House in Boulder, where he took what was the Bistro and turned it into the Fancy Moose, a styling spot that still serves some of Bronstein's game meat and rotisserie specialties. But by the time he really got things going in Boulder, Bronstein had had another epiphany: He wanted to live in the mountains. So he answered an ad for an executive-chef position at the Ranch House at Devil's Thumb, where he stayed for two years. "My sister and her husband had a small bakery and deli in Grand Lake, and every time I went up there, I just loved it," he says. "So I knew that whatever I did, I had to come up with a way to stay there."
His sister, Donna Truitt, eventually sold the deli, and she and Bronstein started talked about doing something together. "We both wanted to stay in the area," Bronstein remembers, "and so when the opportunity came up at Meadow Ridge, we said, 'Why not?'"
The building itself posed the first challenge: Built in 1977, the space had previously housed longtime Winter Park favorites Deno's and the Last Waltz, both more casual ventures than what Bronstein and Truitt envisioned. The structure's not on the main drag of anything, and the staid, blocky exterior gives no hint that an odd but eminently appealing restaurant could lie within. In the beginning, it was also tough working with a sibling, Bronstein admits. But after they both relaxed and focused on their own particular areas of expertise, things started to go smoothly. "Donna knows how to take care of people, and once we got into a routine, I felt really good about having her in the front of the house," Bronstein says. "And we love each other dearly, so that makes a huge difference."
So does the fact that they also love their jobs. From the moment we walked through the door -- a rather strange entrance, given that the racquetball courts and the fitness center's front desk stand between Meadow Ridge's entryway and the restaurant -- we were treated to the sort of excellent service that makes your dining experience pleasant in an unobtrusive and gracious way. We sank into an attractive, comfy booth, enjoyed the view outside -- scantily clad people swimming in a steamy pool -- and ordered a bottle of wine from the Proprietor's List, a well-priced and fun roster of wines that includes the use of Reidel stemware. After we did so, Truitt made a point of sharing some useful information about the glasses and the wines on the list, which recently brought the restaurant attention from Beverage Analystmagazine.
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