Like many things in 2020, this year's First Bite: Boulder County Restaurant Week looks much different than in previous years. In fact, you can tangibly hold the result. Thanks to producer Jessica Benjamin, you won't be restaurant-hopping this November; you'll be cooking recipes from a beautiful new cookbook called A Bite of Boulder, celebrating the chefs, restaurants and food producers of Boulder and the surrounding towns.
"This gives people a chance to try thirty different restaurants, and they can try a place they've never been to before," says Benjamin, who sees the book as a good alternative to the usual Restaurant Week. "Then, on nights when you don't want to cook, you can call up one of these places and get takeout instead."
The idea for the cookbook came to Benjamin after watching a video on Instagram of chef Jennifer Jasinski making gnocchi at Rioja in downtown Denver. Benjamin and her husband started talking about all the good times they've had eating at Rioja, and something clicked. If diners couldn't get to their favorite spots during the pandemic, she would find a way to bring the restaurants to them — and help the eateries in turn.
"I wanted First Bite to meet the diners where they were but still connect them to the restaurants," says Benjamin, adding that 50 percent of proceeds from sales will go to the establishments highlighted in the book. "Maybe you don't feel comfortable eating out, or you're taking out, or even not taking out, I wanted to find a way to give the experience the restaurant provided while being at home."
After researching other cookbooks, Benjamin discovered there hadn't been a Boulder-specific collection of restaurant recipes since 1996. Much has changed in the dining scene over the past 24 years, and while some staples such as the Greenbrier Inn remain, new talent has permeated the dining and culinary scene. So Benjamin reached out to chefs and others in the industry to gauge interest.
"The chefs were so excited to be part of this book," says Benjamin. "Some people think chefs would never share their recipes, but they were super-excited to share and show me their techniques."
Entries include a roasted butternut squash soup with toasted almonds and nutmeg cream by chef Bradford Heap, owner of Salt (which is closing for the winter at the end of this month); ice cream sandwiches by Shine Community chef/co-owner Jessica Emich; and posole rojo by Santo chef/owner Hosea Rosenberg. The art, by photographer Christina Kiffney, and the introductions to each restaurant, written by Sarah Carpenter, make the book shine even more.
"Every recipe is doable, too," says Benjamin. "There are some meant more for a casual Friday night, Sunday football games, and then ones for an anniversary."
Many of the recipes also have a story behind them. For example, a large number of Boulder residents requested the kale salad, which has earned popularity far beyond what its simple ingredients would suggest, from Oak at Fourteenth (which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this week). Chef Steve Redzikowski complied and shared the recipe. Japango's owners contributed a recipe for hamachi carpaccio, a dish they say symbolizes the rebirth of their restaurant after the 2013 floods, then during the pandemic; their daughter was also born this year.
Benjamin added her own anecdotes from countless hours spent testing recipes on her family while putting the book together. The pizza dough from Basta, she says, "is like eating cloud bread." The bacon jam led to an interesting, albeit tasty meal, and she learned how to appreciate the humble box grater more after spending time with chef Daniel Asher of River and Woods. Creating this book also helped her get out of the slump of everyday cooking, something she hopes it will do for others.
"Yes, cooking fatigue is real, but [cooking] is an opportunity to spend time with your kids and family, and these are all moments we can create memories from," she says. "Hopefully we can look back and think on the things we cook."
If anything, she adds, it's good inspiration for what you can make in your own kitchen or order out the next time you want something a little different than your usual recipes.
Starting November 12, the book will be available at all the restaurants and shops mentioned in the cookbook, as well as at the Boulder Book Store, Peppercorn, Cured Boulder and Savory Spice Boulder, for $29.99.
There will also be special prizes given away through social media. During launch weekend, November 12 through 15, several restaurants are offering specials, including an eight-ounce skirt steak and chimichurri from Blackbelly Butcher Shop when you purchase the book on November 12 and 13; a meal kit (with the cookbook included) to make root-vegetable latkes from River and Woods; the cookbook and housemade chips at Verde; an at-home paella kit including the pan and book for $62 at Cafe Aion; a spicy Thai spaghetti kit along with the book at Empire Lounge & Restaurant; and more. Visit the First Bite Boulder website for details on specials.