Once a self-described risk taker, Chris Cina, a veteran Denver chef who's slung sauté pans behind the line of numerous local restaurants -- most recently, Hideaway Steakhouse, where he was pushed out -- now admits that taking too many chances can often lead to unsavory consequences. "Every job I've taken in the past ten years had been a job where I intended to stay, but while there where lots of risks involved, the rewards part of it kind of escaped me," says Cina. And minimal risk coupled with potential rewards, is just one of the reasons why he recently accepted the exec chef position with Ghost Plate & Tap, a six-month-old downtown watering hole and restaurant -- and the former Rocky Mountain Diner -- that's owned by Wynkoop and Breckenridge brewing companies.
"Look, I've worked in fine-dining restaurants for over ten years, and I feel like it's just not as accessible as it used to be -- that it's a risk to continue to go in that direction -- and I'm at the point in my life where I need stability," explains Cina, adding that the owners of Ghost Plate & Tap have a "great staff in place that really know what they're doing." And that, says Cina, is a huge benefit that's been lacking in some of the previous restaurants where he's cooked. "I've been handed a terrific front of the house and back of the house staff here, and that's really important to me."
Cina also points out that Wynkoop and Breckenridge brewing companies have had a long history of success -- which Cina weighed heavily when he interviewed for the job. "These companies have been around a long time; they follow through with their motto -- good food, good drink and good cheer -- and it's a company that's going to continue to grow and a company that I can grow with."
Cina, who's been in the Ghost Plate kitchen for just under two weeks, is currently redoing the menu, which, he admits, was originally "all over the board." He has no intentions of keeping it that way: "A big reason why I took this job is because the owners wanted someone with bona fide culinary experience, and part of what I'm doing is making the menu much more focused," he notes. "I'm doing upscale comfort food -- things like braised short ribs, killer fish and chips, sweetbreads, chicken liver pate and a great rotisserie chicken -- food that people love to eat."
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And food that Cina loves to cook. "The beauty here is that I've been encouraged to do my own thing, to make what we have now even better, and really great, comfy pub food is where I'm at right now. It's food that makes everyone -- me, the staff and our clientele -- happy."
A version of this story first appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly e-mail newsletter covering the food and drink scene; you can subscribe here.