1515 Restaurant's chef Chuck James
1515 Restaurant's chef Chuck James

1515 Restaurant offers Denver diners a taste of what chef Chuck James will be cooking at the James Beard House

In honor of Chuck James's invitation to cook for a group of eager eaters next month at the James Beard House, 1515 Restaurant, where James is the executive chef, is rolling out a four-course menu between now and Saturday, July 17, that includes several dishes from his Beard House board.

To the tune of an "Old World vs. New World" theme, James, a molecular gastronomy aficionado, has come up with a menu of wildly unique dishes, many of them incorporating enigmatic deconstructions like foie gras cotton candy, macadamia nut powder, compressed watermelon and "lobster cloud."

James says he's pumped to show the New York food elite that Colorado isn't just a cow town. "It's cool to see that they're looking to Colorado now for cuisines and chefs," says James, whose Beard menu will be predominantly sourced from Colorado farmers, growers and purveyors.

To illustrate how the menu embodies the event's "Old World vs. New World" theme, James explains how a few of his dishes are prepared. For example, the oyster hors d'oeuvres on the Beard menu are inspired by the "old school" pairing of oysters and caviar.

However, James employs a "new world" take on the dish by making "caviar" out of Champagne and apples by combining Champagne and apple juice with an algae derivative called sodium alginate. Then, using a syringe, he releases drops of the flavoring into a bowl of water mixed with the chemical calcium chloride. The reaction between the two makes the droplets form into little balls, James explains.

"They become spheres, like caviar balls, with a gel coat on the outside and a champagne capsule on the inside. You put them on an oyster, like caviar, and shoot them. It looks like caviar but tastes like Champagne."

To make the foie gras cotton candy -- paired with Colorado buffalo prepared sous vide on the James Beard menu -- James bought and modified an actual cotton candy machine. "I haven't seen this done anywhere else in the states," he claims.

James says he likes to challenge diners' traditional expectations of first smelling, then seeing and then tasting their food. "We're taking aromas and oils and vaporizing and turning those senses around. Anyone can make a plate look beautiful. This theory is to try and change those things around so that sometimes you might even hear the food first," he explains.

Wait -- what? Hear what you eat? Yup, and James goes on to reveal an ambition to use helium -- floating food!!! -- at some point. "We have lots of crazy ideas," he admits.

Some of which you might hear about on the Today show or Good Morning America, since an appearance by James on one of them is also in the works for the New York trip. (He plans to use liquid nitrogen.)

"Here we are. We're on the map. Be ready," James declares, and you can almost feel a fist pump there.

To make reservations for the preview Beard House dinner at 1515, call 303-571-0011.

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