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Brad Arguello dishes on Denver's culinary climate: "Young, with a forecast of awesomeness"

Lon Symensma, exec chef and co-owner of ChoLon: "My personality can be considered "fiery" from time to time."
Lon Symensma, exec chef and co-owner of ChoLon: "My personality can be considered "fiery" from time to time."

The signature signs of a city that's on the culinary fast track reside in its willingness to take aggressive risks, push infinite boundaries and continually adapt to a fickle dining public whose expectations are always on the upswing. Denver is that city -- a major metropolis that refuses to slow down, unleashing triumphant restaurants, watering holes and breweries commanded by innovative masterminds, the likes of which have resulted in a James Beard Award-winning chef, nationally crowned cocktail champions and Einsteins of beer.

See also: Welcome to Westword's 19th annual DISH

As a prelude to the September 22 DISH, Westword's annual celebration of the Denver dining scene, we picked the brains of nearly fifty Denver chefs, all of whom weighed in on Denver's current culinary landscape and the trends that have made their mark this past year. But that's not all we wanted to know: We also wondered which ingredient best personified their personalities and what ritual was an integral part of their daily routine.

Herewith the dish from Lon Symensma, Brad Arguello, Micah Watkins, Jonas Halstead and Adam Baker; watch for one more installment tomorrow, and don't miss part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven and part eight of our DISH chef series.

 

Brad Arguello dishes on Denver's culinary climate: "Young, with a forecast of awesomeness"
Lori Midson

Lon Symensma ChoLon See also: Best Chef - 2013: Lon Symensma

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I just bought a Harley Sportster, and there's nothing I love more than taking a long motorcycle ride into the mountains when I have some time outside the kitchen.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I have to go to boot camp or go for a run in the morning. It's like therapy for me and gets my whole day on track.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Because of my love for travel, I've always wanted to be able to fly. To have breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different countries, all in the span of one day, would be the coolest thing ever.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? Smaller, shared plates and family- style eating is definitely a popular trend that's picked up steam in the last year or so. And I love seeing it, because when people share dishes, they're driven to have conversations about the food they're tasting -- plus I just think that people enjoy sharing numerous dishes as opposed to only a couple.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? Jennifer Jasinski. She just won the James Beard award for Best Chef in the Southwest, and I'm having fun watching her on Top Chef Masters. I'm really looking forward to seeing what's next for her.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Sriracha. My personality can be considered "fiery" from time to time, and I'm very enthusiastic and passionate about my work.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? As fast as the population and different industries are growing in Denver, the food scene is emerging at the same rate.

 

Adam Baker Larkburger See also: Larkburger -- there's now an app for that!

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I can't say there's anything I wish people knew about me that they don't already know.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Coffee with cream and one packet of sugar.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? If I could fly, I wouldn't have to sit in traffic on I-25.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? There is, in general, a higher level of quality, some of which comes from local sourcing, but mostly, it's because people are paying closer attention to the quality of what they're making. "Good enough" is no longer good enough.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? There are too many people doing great things to single any one person out.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Salt. It's a building block and finishes most foods, but too much of it will lead to high blood pressure.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Hot, as in Africa hot.

Brad Arguello dishes on Denver's culinary climate: "Young, with a forecast of awesomeness"
The Denver Post

Jonas Halstead 1515 Restaurant See also: Garren Teich, exec chef of 1515 Restaurant, on molecular gastronomy, line checks and rooftop gardens

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I'm an expectant father and really looking forward to being a dad.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? A cup of coffee and enjoying the morning on the porch.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Multiplicity. Just think of all the things I could get done.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? I've noticed a lot of restaurants starting to get into the sous-vide cooking method, which is really cool.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? Justin Brunson at Old Major. He's a really nice guy and not afraid to try new things.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Vanilla. A little goes a long way.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? I think Denver's culinary scene continues to be on the upswing and that's really exciting. A lot of great talent comes from -- and through -- Denver.

 

Brad Arguello dishes on Denver's culinary climate: "Young, with a forecast of awesomeness"
Lori Midson

Brad Arguello Uber Sausage See also: Brad Arguello, exec chef of the Über Sausage, on the hotness of Ashton Kutcher and the merits of mustard

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I just became a proud father of a beautiful baby girl! I now think women are the toughest motherf*ckers in the world -- no pun intended.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Kissing my baby girl.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I'd be a jumper. You could go anywhere, at anytime, whenever you wanted, in a flash.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? Without question, the craft-beer industry, which is solely responsible for pouring $446 million into the Colorado economy. I'm a Colorado native and grew up in a family of restaurateurs (my late father was the co-founder of Mataam Fez), and to see such an immense impact from beer on the Colorado economy is astounding, no matter where you're from. The craft-beer movement has turned Colorado the highly respectable "Napa Valley of Beer," and our restaurant scene wouldn't be what it is today if it weren't for craft beer. Governor John Hickenlooper played a huge role in shaping Denver's restaurant scene into what it is today, and without his roots in craft beer, it's possible that he never would have had that opportunity.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? Justin Cucci at Linger and Root Down just gets it. Hopefully one day he he'll be putting my name down when he's asked the same question.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Bhut jolokia, the world's hottest pepper. If it's treated correctly, it can be amazing; treated incorrectly, it will burn like Hell.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Young, with a forecast of awesomeness.

 

Brad Arguello dishes on Denver's culinary climate: "Young, with a forecast of awesomeness"
Lori Midson

Micah Watkins Crave Real Burgers See also: Crave Real Burgers in Castle Rock meats expectations

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I'm an avid fisherman, and fishing has taught me many of life's greatest lessons.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I have to have my breakfast of champions every morning, which consists of a slice of American cheese, a slice of bacon, raw onion and habanero mayo. And my coffee.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I'd love to be telepathic; it would be the ultimate customer service experience for guests.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? The creativity and flavor combinations in the brewing industry are off the charts. Beer is definitely the new wine.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? Jennifer Jasinski gets mad props for taking home the James Beard Award, plus she's been in Denver for many years and understands the local crowd. Now we have an ambassador in the culinary scene that the whole county can see.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? The onion. They're used as a foundation for so many dishes, they're consistent, sometimes sweet, and I love lots of onions.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Denver's storm started brewing around 2005 and it's been gaining speed and power ever since. The creativity, different flavor combinations, and push for local vendors have Denver rising off the charts. The sky is the limit; there's no ceiling for great food.


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