Two years ago, when I did a Chef and Tell interview with Jeff Osaka, the owner/chef of twelve, I asked him what he'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint. His answer was poignant, straightforward and inclusive:
I want more chefs working to build camaraderie. Sure, we want to be the best at what we do and outshine the next guy, but I always think it's easier to get to the top with help rather than trying to do it all on your own. Unfortunately, our work lives are so busy, and once we throw our personal lives into the mix, we're back to square one. I'm sort of an outsider. Chefs have big egos, but the passion needs to be shared. If we're all busy, then we're all making money. This is an open invitation for all chefs to give me a call -- 303-293-0287 -- and just say "hi."
Several chefs responded to Osaka's offer and picked up the phone, and last night, two years later, they and dozens more packed the house at twelve for a late-night chef-only gathering hosted by Osaka. "When I worked in L.A., there was always a gathering place for chefs," remembers Osaka. "We'd all hook up at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on Wednesday mornings, hang out, be social, shop, have coffee and catch up, and ever since moving to Denver in 2008, I've wanted to do something similar, to give all of us the opportunity to get to know each other outside of work and figure out how we can evolve into something bigger," he says.
Last night's powwow was attended by the biggest chef names in the business: Daniel Asher (Root Down); Brandon Biederman (Vesta Dipping Grill); Bob Blair (Fuel Cafe); Frank Bonanno (too many to count); Jensen Cummings (Row 14); Troy Guard (TAG and TAG RAW BAR); Ryan Leinonen (Trillium); Scott Parker (Table 6); Keegan Gerhard and Lisa Bailey (D Bar); Alex Seidel (Fruition); Goose Sorensen (Solera); Sheila Lucera (Jax); Samir Mohammad (Village Cork); Lon Symensma (Cholon) -- and scads of others -- most of whom hung out till 2 a.m.
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"Everyone who was here is a big culinary player in Denver, and there is strength in numbers, which will allow us, as chefs, to continue to make the Denver dining scene better," says Osaka. "We talked a lot about executing our collective voices, about demanding better products from our vendors -- demanding equality from our vendors across the board -- and about how we can continue to evolve."
Osaka, who insists that this was a collective effort -- "everyone has wanted to do something like this; I just pulled the trigger," he says -- plans to continue the chef camaraderie once a month throughout the duration of the year. "We won't do one in February, because we're all so busy with Denver Restaurant Weeks, but my goal is to get all the chefs together once a month starting in March."
And many of the chefs who were at twelve last night have offered to host similar corrals. "Everyone is on board with this, and a third of the chefs who came said that they'd have it at their place," says Osaka. "We don't want to compete with each other; we want us all to be successful, and one of the ways we can accomplish that is by networking with one another and talking about how we can fight for better things for us -- and our customers."