By 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, the crew was on its sixth dinner in three nights, the wine was flowing, and everyone was getting giddy. But then, James Mazzio had reason to celebrate: He'd just taken over the space in the Icehouse that was formerly occupied by Mise en Place cooking school a little over a month ago, opening Red Spot Deli while working on his plans for Studio F, a combination cooking school/event space.
Already, Red Star is doing far better than Mazzio's initial projections, serving just breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. And this first series of dinners showed just how flexible the Studio F space could be, as well as an ideal location for pop-up dinners that have a regular home but are still full of surprises.
Charles Dale, the legendary chef who worked in Aspen for seventeen years, then sold his restaurants, then got back in the business when he took the exec-chef slot at Terra Restaurant at Encantado in Santa Fe, was the guest chef at the inaugural dinner, cooking up a special menu paired with wines from Sutcliffe Vineyards out of Cortez, and aided in the kitchen by everyone from Mazzio to Biker Jim (aka Jim Pittenger).
While diners sipped their way through an amazing 2010 Sutcliffe Rose and 2011 Sutcliffe Viognier, they listened to stories from Charles Sutcliffe, who built a vineyard in the middle of his cattle ranch in southeastern Colorado and produced "fearful" wines for the first couple of years. And stories from Dale, who'd worked with Mazzio long before he was named Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef in 1999.
And they heard from Mazzio himself, who won the Food & Wine title when he was chef at the long-gone 15 Degrees in Boulder, then worked in the kitchen of now-defunct restaurants ranging from Triana to the Renaissance in Aspen to Neighborhood Flix to Via. Although Via was also in the Icehouse, another enterprise on Mazzio's long resume echoes through his current venture: Chef Jam, the ahead-of-its-time combination cooking school/display kitchen/restaurant that he started up in Broomfield just as Colorado's restaurant economy was going down.
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But now the time seems right...and the place seems right. "It's been an incredible three days," Mazzio told the diners as they spooned up dessert. "An incredible way to launch." Both Jenna Johansen and Ian Kleinman will be cooking pop-up dinners here in May, and in the meantime, Red Star has gotten a big gold star from the neighborhood.