LYFE Kitchen, the healthy lifestyle restaurant chain that got its start in Palo Alto, California, and made its Colorado debut at the Park Meadows mall in June, opened Wednesday in Boulder under the ownership of Rachel and DJ Mitchell, who also operate the Park Meadows location. Jeremy Bringardner, one of three executive chefs on LYFE's culinary team, was on hand to ensure a smooth opening and to welcome Boulder customers to the fast-casual restaurant.
As the operating executive chef, Bringardner works with Art Smith and Tal Ronnen to develop recipes, source ingredients and bring new ideas to a menu that features a core lineup of low-calorie, low-sodium dishes, as well as an ever-changing chalkboard roster of seasonal and regional items. But his most important role is putting the "LYFE twist" on everything that comes out of his test kitchen, he says, which means "big flavor and -- just as important -- nutritional content."
Bringardner brought a background in Chicago fine dining, including a stint at the world-famous Charlie Trotter's, to his current job, where he wants to make sure that food is more than entertainment. "People are eating more than half of their meals out," he notes. "We're putting our health in the hands of others." Because of that, he adds, "I have to do a lot of research to sift through all the information."
The new LYFE Kitchen, like its sibling in Lone Tree and the ten other franchises throughout the country, has a bright, modern and upscale feel similar to other new restaurants in the metro area, but the service model is fast-casual and the goal is to have food in front of the customer within twelve minutes of ordering. To achieve that goal, Bringardner says, a fully staffed kitchen works behind the scenes prepping food from scratch and using modern equipment to reduce cooking time and minimize human error. The cooks are still hand-picking and tearing herbs to add fresh flavor notes, but an Ovention convection oven is employed to cook "Art's unfried chicken" -- a signature dish -- in under five minutes, and a another conveyor-belt grill uses precise jets of flame to cook meats and add caramelized grill marks.
The kitchen does all this while remaining 98 percent GMO-free -- Bringardner says they're aiming for 100 percent -- and avoiding typical kitchen crutches like butter and cream. "I'm not trying to demonize cream and butter," he adds, "but we know we can do it without them."
LYFE's goal is for each dish to have under 1000 milligrams of of sodium and fewer than 600 calories. But he also mentions the importance of other, less measurable health benefits, like the use of aromatherapy in cooking. Zesting fresh lime over baked tortilla chips not only creates a "plume of aroma," as he puts it, but can have other benefits. "Smelling citrus ten minutes a day reduces stress."
The chef's active lifestyle -- skiing, skateboarding, BMX -- led him to embrace a healthier diet. "How do I get myself the extra energy?" he asked himself. His answers to that question -- Ingredients like quinoa, kale and grass-fed beef -- show up on the LYFE menu. Guests can also choose from gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan menus. There are plenty of options to cater to specific needs, but the chef stresses that he wants the food to come across as everyday food -- LYFE is an acronym for "Love Your Food Everyday" -- that people are accustomed to. "We're not dietary extremists," he says.
All of LYFE's location also feature regional specialties and seasonal surprises. He's added a variation on his mother's rhubarb crisp -- his favorite childhood food memory -- to past menus, and points out that the bison burger and tacos are currently only served in the Colorado locations.
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