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Frasca is famous — so why is its chef doing an infomercial?

Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson has won a lot of awards, most of them for Frasca, the restaurant he owns in Boulder with partner Bobby Stuckey. The one honor he doesn't yet have? An Emmy. And maybe that's what he was working toward when I caught him on my TV at three o'clock in the morning, dressed up in a pumpkin-orange chef coat, doing an infomercial for "Chef in a Box."

Yes, Mackinnon-Patterson in an infomercial. For some little gadget that allows you to grow an indoor herb garden (yeah, "herb garden") with no soil and no light. It's basically an aero-ponic system with a built-in grow light that probably sells like crazy on college campuses, in Berkeley, in the parking lot at Phish shows.

I called the pitchman to ask if I'd been hallucinating.

No, Mackinnon-Patterson told me, that really was him making herbed chicken soup on my TV. He'd essentially done the gig as a favor for the guy selling the "Aerogarden," who is not only a Boulder local (save your jokes 'til the end), but also a Frasca regular. "They're great people," he said. "They've been very supportive of us here, so I wanted to support them. It was a lot of fun."

It turns out the Aerogarden infomercial is just the beginning of Lachlan's TV career. This month, he'll also do a spot on the Today show, demonstrating easy, no-hassle recipes for the holidays. And how did he land that slot? "Because Thanksgiving just kicks the shit out of people," he explained.

I forgot to ask if he'd be taking his Aerogarden to the Big Apple. Probably not: That's really not the kind of thing you want to take on a plane these days.


Turn, turn, turn: A month ago, Mel Master insisted that, rumors to the contrary, chef Adam Mali would stick around for a while as exec for the three restaurants (Montecito, Annabel's and the new Mel's in Greenwood Village that used to be Montecito South) owned by Mel and his wife, Jane. But last week, I got word that Mali is definitely leaving his exec's gig — most likely to return to California and the cuisine he loves. "Adam is still our dear friend," Mel wrote, "and we remain one of his biggest fans."

You can count me among them, too. Mali did amazing work during his time at Montecito — including making two of the greatest sandwiches I've ever had in a sit-down restaurant — and I'm going to miss him. But lose some, win some, because the Masters have brought back Chad Clevenger, the closing chef when the original Mel's went dark, who then shipped off for France to work as a private chef for friends of Mel and Jane. (Nice work if you can get it, non?)

Now Clevenger has taken over as chef at the new Mel's — standing the post on the line where Mali stood before his departure. When the Masters initially hired Clevenger several years ago, he was a breath of fresh air at the original Mel's, bringing his Southwestern modernist sensibilities to the place and tilting the solidly Continental menu westward in a pleasantly light-fingered way. I'm hoping he'll do the same again. Because as much as I love the tarragon roasted chicken, the mussels La Cagouille and all the other abiding tropes of the last Mel's menu, I don't want it to get too stodgy with classics. And besides, I can't wait to see how that time in France affected Clevenger.

Mel had more news for me. At Annabel's, he's brought on new chef David Oliverri, ex of Randolph's at the Warwick Hotel and Dazzle, where his small-plate snackies and happy-hour menus won both awards and raves. With the new blood in the galley comes a new menu, too: Annabel's was originally conceived as a sort of ersatz steakhouse padded out with a whole bunch of stuff that wasn't steak at all, but now it's become a small plates/large plates grazing restaurant after the fashion of Dazzle or Deluxe. with the board of steaks dumped in favor of a simple steak frites.

Mel and Jane's son, Charlie Master, continues to handle front-of-the-house duties for all three restaurants. With partner Chuck Cattaneo, Charlie had opened the original Brix at 3000 East Third Avenue, and after many delays, they'd opened a second Brix at 2200 Market Street last year. But Charlie bailed out of that spot several months ago, and Cattaneo closed it in September. And while there were rumors that it might reopen during the World Series, today the space is not only dark, but a note on the door says it's been seized for back taxes. When I called Charlie last week, he said he wasn't even aware that the downtown location was gone. But he'd just been to dinner at the Cherry Creek Brix — where he still has a 20 percent ownership stake and a duty to appear once in a while and be charming on the floor — and he said that things were going well there, certainly better than they'd ever gone downtown.

Almost everyone in the local restaurant scene has ties to Mel Master, and Martin Hammer is no exception. The onetime Mel's employee now owns Boulder's Restaurant 4580, where Eric Laslow, formerly of Corridor 44, just gave notice. With the holiday season fast approaching, Hammer told me he's promoting one of his young cooks — 25-year-old Travis Messervey, who once worked for Troy Guard at Nine75 — into a caretaker chef's position. I love hearing about a young white-jacket lucking into his shot at the big hat. Every advancement I ever made while still in the kitchens came from jumping in to fill slots abandoned by guys who'd gotten better offers, freaked out, gone to jail, what have you. And many, many chefs out there owe their fancy white jackets to circumstances just like this. (I'm looking at you, Bobby Flay. You, too, Bourdain.)

So best of luck, Travis. All you gotta do now is climb into the big shoes and not fuck it up. No pressure or anything...

 
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