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Rebecca Weitzman, chef at the fantastic Cafe Star (3201 East Colfax Avenue) and supreme overseer of the fine-dining portion of Colfax's restaurant revolution, has just announced that she's quitting our little corner of paradise at the end of the month.
She's heading for New York City — still the hot and brightly lit center of America's culinary universe, the place where Weitzman first made her bones (at CIA's Hyde Park campus, then at Bobby Flay's Bolo and Mesa Grill) before coming west to work at Bloom(briefly), under Duy Phamat Opal, with Frank Bonanno during the opening of Mizuna, and then as his chef de cuisine at Luca d'Italia before finally landing the exec's gig at Cafe Star.
"This is my first executive chef's job," Weitzman said when I got her on the phone last week. "And it's been a great three years. But I sort of have this feeling that I'm ready to step back and learn some new things."
3201 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
Yes, that's what she said: Step back from the big-hat position, take her awesome resumé and go work a lineman's gig somewhere with a Le or a La in the name or an address on the swank side of town where she can brush up her skills in hopes of someday opening her own restaurant.
"I'm not sure yet," Weitzman replied when I asked if she had any solid plans about where she might wash up in the Big Apple. "I have a few different directions I'm interested in going in. Obviously, I have a very rustic cooking style. I want to get into some of those kitchens that are so detail-oriented, where there's so much precision. I want to see how they run with those big crews." And then she laughed. "Ideally, I'm hoping I can find a job that will pay enough for me to live there. And then on my days off, I can just work in any kitchen, stage in some of these places."
Weitzman is 34 and has long since grown out of that freaky, spastic, everything-with-lemongrass, I-heart-sous-vide phase of sophomore culinary experimentalism. She's proven herself in some of the best kitchens in Denver and a couple of the more notable kitchens in New York, and has come upon that second breaking point in any chef's career: that time when white-jackets must decide if they're going to settle for what they can do now, or are going to continue pushing themselves to become better.
"I know I want to cook," Weitzman told me. "I know I want to do this. Cafe Star has been an unbelievable learning experience, but I think I need to learn some more."
So, admirably, she made the hard choice. Come October, she'll box up her solid-black exec pants and head for New York with her knives and her junior checks, hoping for that dream gig, leaving an as-yet-unfilled slot at Cafe Star.
And we here at Bite Me World HQ wish her nothing but success — provided that she gathers up all that priceless Manhattan street cred and someday brings it all back home again to little ol' Denver.
The Italian underground: Speaking of Bonanno, the long-rumored addition to his restaurant empire is now a go. Osteria Marco — which he'll be doing in partnership with Ryan Gaudin and Jean Philipe, both employees of Bonanno's Mizuna and Luca d'Italia — is slated to debut next month in the Larimer Square space at 1453 Larimer that, until now, was completely wasted on the dreadful Del Mar Crab House.
I caught Bonanno during a Mizuna staff meal Friday and pumped him for details. After his original idea of moving in on the 609 Corona Street address occupied by Table 6 fell through, he started looking high and low for a spot that would mesh with his image of an Otto/Enotecca/Luca d'Italia mash-up, a place for salumi, for pizza, panini and snacks off the rotisserie, house-cured meats and handmade sausages, a casual, unhurried, anti-fine-dining joint with enough seats and enough space to do everything he wanted. "This is a concept I've wanted to do for a long time," he told me. "No pastas, just simple foods. Nothing on the menu over eighteen dollars."
He's going to have a salumi and mozzarella bar, pizza ovens and rotisseries set right out in the open, Sunday-night whole-pig roasts. "All the homemade, artisanal shit at Luca that people love," he said. And I think that's great, because it's exactly that homemade, artisanal shit at Luca that I love and makes the restaurant consistently one of the best in the city. "I'm not even gonna lie to myself about it anymore, though," Bonanno continued. "Luca is expensive. This? Marco? It's going to be more approachable, you know? People order the prosciutto, that's what they're gonna get: five or six slices of the best prosciutto, maybe a little bread."
What's more, it looks like Bonanno and staff will be throwing off the constraints of the balletic service that has always been one of the draws of Mizuna — that perfectly orchestrated descent of servers, plates, silver. At Marco, "the food will come when it's ready," he said.