"He looks like Clark Kent, only cuter," whispered a diner at last night's pop-up dinner at Studio F, which paraded the culinary chutzpah of Jenna Johansen, along with her 27-year-old protegee, Iain Chisholm. A Johnson & Wales graduate who's worked in the same kitchens as Johansen for more than a decade, Chisholm started out at Ventura Grill, the first Denver restaurant -- it's now long gone -- where Johansen sharpened her knives before eventually opening her own restaurant, Dish, in Edwards.
And now Chisholm is following in her footsteps, opening Amerigo, his first restaurant (and market), at 2449 Larimer Street, an address that formerly housed the Bamboo Hut. And it may just be one of the tiniest restaurants in Denver -- at least if you're counting tables.
Ten. Tables. Total. Enough to seat twenty people. "To be honest, I'm doing a very small restaurant because I want to be able to have tighter control," says Chisholm, who baptized the space after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for which North and South America are named. "I'm designing all the menus, which will be contemporary takes on Italian-American food, I'll be the maitre d', I'll be bartending, and I'll be managing the front-and-back-of-the-house, and I want to make sure that I can oversee all of that without compromising," he adds, noting that he's prowling for a sous chef to oversee the kitchen, which will turn out a tidy menu of Italian-American cuisine.
The 1,200 square-foot space, which will also house a market hustling the same dishes from the menu for those who want to trot their food home, curl up on the sofa and fix their gaze on Around the World in 80 Plates, will boast a communal table and bar, and everything, insists Chisholm, will be custom-crafted with his his own hands. "I've spent the past two years learning all there is to know about the construction process of building a restaurant, so now I know all about carpentry, lighting, welding and how to fabricate steel, among other things, and my hands will have touched everything that's in the space -- the tables, the chairs, which I've welded, the light fixtures -- everything," he says.
And everything that comes out of the kitchen, he adds, will be scratch-made, as well. "Literally everything -- the pastas, the cheeses, the sausages -- will be made on the premises," says Chisholm, who will also cure his own bacon. He, notes, too, that the menu will change monthly and pa homage to the seasons, and as he gets his sea legs, the menu will evolve. "We're starting small with dishes like gnocchi, crispelli and different interpretations of lasagna, and as we move forward, we'll likely add new things like headcheese and beef cheeks, but everything will be seasonal -- that's paramount," he stresses.
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And nothing on the menu, asserts Chisholm, will be more than $15. "There's a real emphasis on affordability, and when the most expensive dinner entree is $15, that's unprecedented value. I'm not not trying to get rich -- just build an intimate restaurant that's great for the neighborhood."
Chisholm is gunning for a mid-July opening. "Building permits are forthcoming and so far, we're staying on track," he says, "so mid-July is looking good."