At Barolo Grill, the Italian restaurant that Blair Taylor opened two decades ago at 3030 East Sixth Avenue, there's only one thing on the menu from twenty years ago: the duck. "I'm not allowed to change it," Taylor says. But he can, and does, think about changing everything else. "You have to keep on moving forward, keeping the passion front and center," he says. "Exploring, educating, translating." And to help with the education, he closes the restaurant and takes the entire staff to Italy every summer. See also:The Dish on Blair Taylor, CRA Food Service Hall of Fame Award Winner
It was travel -- family vacations in Colorado -- that inspired Taylor to enroll at the University of Denver more than forty years ago. He went through several majors before he tried the restaurant school, and worked for resorts in Steamboat. "I just loved it," he says. After school, he worked as a beverage manager at one of the Broker restaurants, then took a job selling French and California wines for a small distributor, persuaded by this argument: "You want to learn about restaurants, try walking into sixty a week."
He's never given up the wine business, but in 1978 he joined with Jane Master to open the legendary Dudley's. "The beauty of Dudley's was that it was ahead of its time; Denver had not seen a modern French bistro," he remembers. "At the time, French restaurants had to look like French whorehouses." Dudley's lasted eight years -- until the oil and gas bust, when "all the customers left." He turned the space into the more casual Chives, which lasted another eight years.
By then, though, he'd opened Barolo Grill, which marked its twentieth anniversary in 1993. "I don't want to focus on that," says Taylor. "You have to stay in the moment. It's much different from what it was four years ago. Like countries without borders, you have to have a restaurant without a time capsule."
So while Blair Taylor was elevated to the Colorado Foodservice Hall of Fame by the Colorado Restaurant Association this spring, he's not resting on his reputation. "I have more passion and more fun right now than ever before," he says. Read on to learn more, in his responses to the questionnaire we sent other CRA award-winners.
What was your first restaurant job?
The Denver Country Club. I think they have recovered from the experience.
When did you realize you would make your career in the restaurant industry?
My third sophomore year at the University of Denver, when I entered the hospitality and restaurant school.
What made you decide to make Colorado the focus of that career?
Really? That question from someone who's from Chicago, too?
What was the dining scene like when you got your start here? The Quorum restaurant, Lafitte in Larimer Square; Denver was steakhouses and old-world kind of places, although fern bars like Zach's and Rick's were starting to come along. What was your favorite restaurant then?
Cafe Promenade -- no question
What is your favorite restaurant today?
In the world, Trattoria della Posta in Monforte d'Alba, a great Piedmontese restaurant/trattoria in the Barolo region that's the original farm-to-table spot. In Denver, Potager: We love Teri Rippeto's cooking. Barolo Grill is a place after my own heart -- but you can't recommend your own children. Rippeto cooks beautifully, cleanly; treats vegetables perfectly; puts a nice combination of flavors together.
What have been the best developments in the local dining scene since you got your start?
Denver has a lot of neighborhoods that have a lot of little buildings that you can sneak restaurants into -- and that's what's happened. Look at where Fruition is, where Table 6 is, where Tables is. Those little blocks, they're all over town. They allow good restaurants to come in and concentrate on the important things.
What have been the worst developments in the local dining scene?
There hasn't really been a bad development. There's a thriving economy right now, with capitalism at its best. There's lots of opportunity out there. It's a pretty darn good dining scene. If chain restaurants had taken over the world, you could bitch about that.
What have been the most surprising developments?
The return of the small artisanal supplier. In Europe a generation ago, people were worried that the traditional things were going away, that their kids weren't taking over the family business. Now all of a sudden, grandchildren are taking it on. Here in the United States, the same thing is happening. At Dudley's, you'd have to go to the coasts to find ingredients; now there are so many great choices all around. It's exciting; I didn't expect that.
How have you changed the way you do business, and why?
With Open Table and Internet menus, customers want immediate access. We've run with that, and it's great. We say we have fresh sardines, and they say, "I'm driving over right now."
How have consumers changed during your tenure?
They are more worldly and they have stopped smoking! What is the one thing I don't have to tell the waiters to do anymore? Change the ashtrays. People are also far more worldly about all cuisines -- partly from travel, partly from the Internet. It's really been fun.
Who is the most interesting person on the scene right now, and why?
Alex Seidel -- and others doing the "wear all the hats" thing. He's a super-cool guy, and his farm-to-table starts with his own farm.
If you'd like to see one thing happen to the local dining scene, what would it be? More independent restaurants in the suburbs.
What cuisine is missing from Denver's dining scene?
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There's nothing I can think of, but it's a great market economy right now with a lot of opportunities in little spots. It's not easy, but it can be done.