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Chef Hosea Rosenberg Talks Blackbelly Market and Free Tacos

Hosea Rosenberg at Blackbelly working with a whole hog.
Hosea Rosenberg at Blackbelly working with a whole hog.
Lauren Monitz

Like tacos? How about free tacos? We do too. Sea Cuisine -- a packaged frozen fish company -- is bringing its mobile taco truck to various markets across the country and pairing with notable local chefs to help develop the recipes. They'll be in Denver through August 14 in various locations, handing out the goods to engage the community and push the brand. More interesting that frozen fish, though, is the guy you may find serving the tacos. Top Chef winner and Boulder catering-company owner Hosea Rosenberg says he'll be "helping out at the taco bar at Coors Field on Wednesday afternoon from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m."

In advance of tomorrow's appearance, we caught up with Rosenberg to see how he got involved with Sea Cuisine and, more importantly, to find out about the big things on the horizon at Blackbelly Market, where he's ramping up for a new restaurant and butcher shop to complement the catering business.

See also: Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg opening Blackbelly Market in Boulder

Lauren Monitz: What is Sea Cuisine?

Hosea Rosenberg: It's high-quality frozen seafood available from your local grocer -- salmon, tilapia, cod. It's really easy to cook, like potato-crusted cod you bake and pair with a salad for good quality fish and a no fuss dinner.

How did you get involved with them?

I work with a group out of New Your City that works with a lot of prominent chefs and they partnered with them. I vetted the product pretty hard and cook it myself at home.

"It's funny, Stefan (Richter) was my arch nemesis on our season of Top Chef and was the one I was always gunning for. He worked with Sea Cuisine last year in Denver to do some promotional work and demos. Every interview he did, the first thing they'd asked was, 'Where's Hosea?' They said if they ever came back to Denver they'd have to work with me. I make sure to give him a hard time about it. "

Everyone is so excited for Blackbelly Market; when is it finally opening?

We're looking at the end of September right now. Our original date was June 1, then that got pushed back to July 1, and then middle of August. We've been dealing with major construction delays and city permits. It literally took weeks if not months to get the permits we needed, which was much longer than we were initially told.

What have been the challenges been of opening a restaurant vs. a catering company? With old buildings come surprises. We had to replace a bunch of the plumbing lines that collapsed, which aren't exactly problems you can just ignore - especially if you have a clogged line next to the dishwasher. Now we're dealing with some HVAC issues on the roof, leaks and things. The landlord has been working with us, but it all takes time. There have been plenty of "oh shit" moments and I've become very familiar with what a change order is. We've had a series of things that have added up so we're behind schedule and spending a lot more than we anticipated, all problems pretty common with opening a restaurant.

The good news is that our catering business is booming because we deliver food that no one gets in catering -- fresh cooked pasta and dishes made right in front of you. It's more of a private chef, custom culinary experience rather than unwrapping plastic platters. We have tons of events every week and I'm in the middle of wedding season madness.

What's the vision for the space?

This will be our home base for Blackbelly, and the grand plan is to have a commissary for the catering business, a restaurant where I can be behind the line again, the food truck, and the butchery program. I want it to be a space where people can come in after work for a beer, get a few steaks and a few sides to go and make a really great dinner at home. There will be a butcher counter in front with lots of grab and go options for the hospital and business parks in the area -- sandwiches, soups and salads, all meats that we roast and cure in house. Everything is made fresh to order, not sitting in a cold case. We're going to have a bunch of farmer's market type salads available and to avoid the common complaint with packaged salads that there's not enough room to mix in the dressing, we're going to have shirts that say, "we will happily toss your salad for you."

Not a butcher shop, but a butcher program?

Yes, there are no neighborhood butchers left in Boulder -- you have to go to Whole Foods to get good meat. If you look at what's happened to food in the US over the years, we have shifted to convenience, fast food, and frozen dinners. Along with that, butcher shops really suffered because people weren't spending money on good meat or even cooking for themselves anymore. Over time, we've turned a corner and you see them opening up again. I love what Western Daughters is doing and it's so awesome so see them doing well because it shows that people care again. We'll have some cuts of beef in our butcher case, with more in the back, but then we can also source any type of specialty meat you want in a reasonable time frame -- goose, venison, foie gras. We have tons of relationships with local vendors and farms across the state. Expect lots of house made sausages, charcuterie, pickled items, preserves, good stuff. We can also make you any type of custom sausage you want -- beef and broccoli frankfurter? Whatever.

What will the menu look like?

I'm really good at fish, so there will be some seafood but this is a meat-focused restaurant. Our tagline is restaurant, bar, butcher. We're going to be bringing in whole animals and featuring them in a variety of ways like Brunson's program at Old Major. The menu will be seasonal and thoughtful, ever-evolving, but always tasty.

And you're raising all your own animals?

Yes, everything's from our farm. There are a lot of reasons we raise our own pigs, but mainly just because they're fucking delicious. Who doesn't love bacon?

Who else is on the team?

Josh (Chesterton), my sous chef was part of the opening crew at Colt & Gray. Before Denver, he worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York, which is like the grown up version of what we're trying to do. Dan Barber's one of the most influential chefs in the world right now. It's a culinary center with a magnificent fine dining restaurant made from everything that's grown on the property. It's all done in an education way with classes and innovation -- going as far as to fertilize the land with poop from the chicken coops. We'll get there eventually.

This is your first restaurant since Top Chef -- what does that mean to you?

This is my first restaurant ever! I wanted to open up my own spot well before the show. Top Chef just gave me the opportunity to take some time off and spend it with my family -- my dad was really sick at the time. Since then I've been focused on my catering company and was looking for a space big enough for a commissary kitchen and stumbled upon this, which ended up working out for both.

Why East Boulder?

I never would've found a space downtown with enough parking for the food trucks and enough room for the smokers. I'm trying to build a brand, not just open a restaurant. In East Boulder, we can build out a big kitchen and have a whole butcher operation. That location will be the nerve center of Blackbelly. It's not the only restaurant I want and it's not the only restaurant I'm going to have.

What exactly does a Blackbelly lamb taste like?

Deliciousness. The reason I'm raising lamb and why I named it that is because I believe that Colorado lamb is the best in the world. We're raising a heritage breed and something that symbolizes what this state does best. It's mild, flavorful, and not too gamey. The name is both masculine and delicious from the soft underbelly.

How Boulder is this going to be?

Farm to table has become so ubiquitous, but it's really what every good restaurant should be doing. We're just taking it a step further and raising our own livestock -- very few people can claim that. And yes, we're keeping it all local -- a local designer did the logo, a local woodworker's doing the tables, and a local metal artist is doing the bar shelving.

Do you actually work on the farm?

I do but not tons, I'm so busy building the business and working in the kitchen.

Are you going to have brunch? Absolutely, on weekends. I envision breakfast sausages, chorizo, and frankfurters. I also hope to offer breakfast eventually.

Keep reading to see what Hosea Rosenberg says about Top Chef, Boulder, and life...

This little piggy went to Blackbelly market...
This little piggy went to Blackbelly market...
Lauren Monitz

Do you still keep in touch with anyone from Top Chef?

A lot of them. Stefan and I are really good friends, we have an open invitation to stay at each other's houses but we definitely rib each other. Melissa (Harrison), the other Boulder chef on my season (formerly of Centro) lives in Montana and spends the winters in Patagonia. Her fiancé is a professional fly-fishing guide so they have a really cool gig where she makes breakfast, box lunches and dinner for the fishermen and they go out on the water. Jeff, who was living in Miami at the time, just opened a place in New York. I still stay in contact with Leah (Cohen); she's also in New York. I see Fabio (Viviani) at all the big events. Out of all the Top Chef contestants, he's probably the most successful with Superbowl commercials and all.

Will we be seeing you on Top Chef Duels or anything in the future?

It depends what comes up and the timing. I'm so busy, I have to be able to fit it in my schedule and it has to make sense for my brand. I am doing the Top Chef cruise again in November. The restaurant will be open so it'll be my little reward. I did it last April and it was actually a blast. I got to bring my sous chef and we both brought our girlfriends -- it was almost a vacation. The ship crew was really helpful -- they did all the prep, all we had to do was show up, serve, and do the demos. There were a couple of crazy fans, but mostly everyone was super respectful. The boat took great care of us.

Fondest memory of CU?

I met some of my best friends in the dorm at Darley North (Will Vill). I'm actually pretty proud of my degree because I paid my way through school by working in a restaurant, which definitely helped shaped who I am. What I learned was work ethic, problem solving, pragmatic thinking, and time management from working nights and weekends and somehow still managed to get close to straight As with an engineering/physics degree.

Favorite place to eat and drink in Boulder?

I have two: Basta, which is just killer. It's a hidden gem in the newest, hottest neighborhood, East Arapahoe (ha). And of course, Oak.

I've heard that dating a chef is like dating a massage therapist; they never want to bring their work home with them. Is that true?

Yeah, it's one of those things you only do when you're really trying to impress someone. I don't cook at home.

Sink or Dark Horse?

Dark Horse.

Ski or snowboard?

Ski.

Hapa or Zanmai?

Hapa (because I have more friends that work there)

Gail or Tom?

Gail.