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I watched her walk away. I watched her come back again, smudging the glass on the display case with perfectly manicured fingers. I watched her walk away again, high heels clicking on the tiles, her basket empty but for one lonely glass jar of Stonewall Kitchen raspberry-peach champagne jam.
1600 Glenarm Place
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
Sage Derby Cheddar: $11.99/lb
White truffles: $999.00/lb
Parma prosciutto: $21.99/lb
Chicken cordon bleu: $6.99/lb
Italian stuffed chicken: $7.99/lb
Sausage and potato casserole: $5.99/lb
Chocolate chunk brownie: $2.49
Key lime pie: $1.99
For ten minutes, I'd been watching her ghost the bakery case with all the casual subtlety of a bad teenage shoplifter. She was young, fit, dressed in a tailored black-over-white business suit, gold anklet, no wedding ring, shopping for one at six on a Thursday evening.
While pretending to contemplate the array of balsamic vinegars in a short aisle, I'd watched her approach the counter no fewer than six times, then balk and walk away. I wasn't going anywhere until I saw what had her so captivated. If there'd been no one around, I'm sure she would have licked the glass.
I studied a bottle of 25-year-old Colavita balsamic as she passed by again. She had the look of a solid professional, an intensely capable woman unused to indecision. At the end of the aisle, she knocked a box of couscous into her basket, grabbed a forty-dollar bottle of cold-pressed Sicilian olive oil off the shelf without even looking at it, hesitated for just a second, and then, finally, raised her hand to get the counterman's attention.
She'd been hypnotized by a bakery tray full of chocolate-chunk brownies, fat squares of chewy dark bliss. She asked for half a dozen, and once she had them, packaged in a plain white to-go box, she trotted hurriedly over to the cash register with the same kind of look -- giddy, excited, a little guilty -- that you see on the faces of men surprised at the mailbox by the newest Victoria's Secret catalogue.
Food is indulgence. Food is fantasy. Pick up the latest issue of Gourmet, open it to any page, and tell me you see anything less than food porn. Just look at those bulging ravioli; those soft, milky-pink curls of prosciutto wrapped lovingly around dewy melon balls; those close-ups of micro-green salads dripping vinaigrette, snapped in soft-focus, lit to accentuate the tender flesh of a single plum tomato; and then the money shot: a delicate fall of crème anglais hung from the corner of a dark-chocolate gâteau.
Food is love, often forbidden love, and Cook's Fresh Marketis where you sneak off to when you crave items on your secret shopping list -- one less about sustenance than desire. Tiny speckled quail eggs; red tins of black truffle jus with the labels all in Italian; smooth, pale lobes of Hudson Valley foie gras; a $150 bottle of Il Patriarca balsamic vinegar aged thirty years; fat stringhe del preteor fanciful lingua de suocera pasta striped in pink and cream like ribbon candy; Tuong Ot Sriracha red-chile sauce that's bottled dragon fire. Two dozen kinds of rice, from Arborio and calasparra to Bhutanese red and a black Asian variety called, simply, Forbidden. Mangoes and plantains; canned lychees in heavy, sweet syrup; black truffles in little glass bottles; flash-frozen packages of duck fat.
From behind the meat counter at the back of the store, Bill Roehl -- who also teaches at Johnson & Wales University -- can get you anything your fevered little foodie heart desires (with a few days' lead time). Beef heart, dressed rabbit, caribou saddle, alligator, kangaroo, a whole pig's head...dream big. The cheese list, arranged and tended to by resident cheese whiz Jeremy Myers, is a bible of everything good, aged and stinky in the world, including sage Derby -- a stiff, powerful English Cheddar shot through with marbling of real sage -- and a goat cheese called Bianco Sottobusco that's flavored with white truffles. Its taste was so intense, deep and dirty that I swear I could still taste it two days later.
Ed and Kristi Janos, the owners, chefs and masterminds behind Cook's Fresh Market, employ a small army of chefs, bakers, meat-cutters, pastry cooks, cheese freaks, sauciers and culinary students who work hard to fill all of those cases, coolers and freezers. "We're very careful about who we hire," Kristi says. "And we are very, very fortunate: Ninety percent of our staff is either in culinary school or graduated from a culinary college. And even if we don't have a position for someone when they come through the door, if they're good and they're passionate about what they do, we'll find a job for them. Because otherwise, someone else will hire them, and then when we need them, they won't be available."
Both Ed and Kristi come from food-service backgrounds. Kristi, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, is a veteran of many Midwestern galleys; husband Ed is one of only fifty or so Certified Master Chefs in the United States (no small trick, considering the master certification test is a grueling, ten-day marathon exam in which a candidate's every move and cut are scrutinized, analyzed and judged by a panel of imposing culinary demigods). Ed also teaches at Johnson & Wales and has duked it out for the home team at cooking competitions from Paris to South Africa. But when this pair of die-hard, professionally trained kitchen folks moved from Michigan to Colorado a few years ago, they decided to get out of the restaurant game and open their own market.
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