Best Rebirth of a Chef - 2004
A year ago, Radek Cerny -- formerly of Papillon (now Indigo), formerly of Radex (now Opal), formerly of Le Chantecler (still Le Chantecler, only better) -- looked like he might be down for the count. One by one, he'd closed the crown jewels of his restaurant empire. Among local foodies, the opinion was that it was about time: Cerny's cooking had become increasingly derivative and copycat, his name synonymous with certain (mostly potato-related) excesses that were more recognizable on the plate than his touch was in the kitchen. But then came L'Atelier -- The Artistry of Radek Cerny -- and all that speculation went straight out the window. This was Radek re-energized. Radek times ten. Like an aging prizefighter getting his second wind, he came out swinging with a new restaurant that wasn't just great for Denver, but great on a national scale. Every smart, innovative, bizarre thing Cerny had ever done in his entire career was crammed into this single expression of his unique vision, then doodled with sauce, stood on its ear and lit on fire. This workshop became a brilliant showcase for the skills that Cerny had always had, but that had gotten buried beneath the name and the reputation. L'Atelier is a fabulous house -- a chef's kitchen operating in constant tribute to the man whose name it bears. Welcome back, Radek. We didn't know how much we missed you till you were gone.