Caroline Glover just opened Annette, a snug restaurant in the Stanley Marketplace, where she hopes to give diners a taste of what she likes feeding people in her own home. Annette is a very personal project for Glover, and to pull it off, she’s drawing on lessons learned at New York City’s Spotted Pig, Acorn in Denver, and various American farms. In the run-up to the opening, we caught up with the young chef to talk about the lessons she learned from farming, why opening a marketplace restaurant is like going to group therapy, and why chefs must continue to pursue sustainable sourcing, even if the novelty of phrases like “farm to table” has worn off.
Westword: Your culinary journey has taken you through restaurants and farms all over the country. How did your path bring you to Denver?
Caroline Glover: When I was fifteen, I was working at Chili’s as the to-go girl. Even being in that restaurant environment, I thought, whoa, what is this? It’s cool. I was on this path thinking I would go to college and then get my culinary degree. I went to Texas Christian University, and I was there for two years. I wasn’t happy; I found I was happiest working outside of school, in food. So I went to Yosemite to clear my head, and I met some people who had been to the Culinary Institute of America.... I went to the CIA in Hyde Park six years ago. After I graduated, I went to the Spotted Pig and became a sous-chef there. I wanted to start growing food and see a different side of cooking, so I went to Pennsylvania and Vermont, worked with different farmers and met my husband. He’s from Basalt, and I’ve always loved Colorado, so we moved to Paonia. I worked at this great bed-and-breakfast there, farming and cooking. I wanted some kind of combination of the two. We moved to Carbondale after that, but while I love the mountains, I was ready to get into a big kitchen with high volume. Acorn had just opened, and I really wanted to work for Steve [Redzikowski], so I packed up and moved here. I was at Acorn for three years.
You’ve worked in some restaurants that really emphasize sustainable sourcing, and then you went straight to the source when you worked on farms. How did those experiences shape you as a cook?
The Spotted Pig was the first restaurant I worked at, and I loved every single flavor. [Chef] April Bloomfield’s seasoning was so simple: just salt, lemon, chile and olive oil. Union Square Market was right there, and we had a forager who would go to the market three times a week. I had never experienced that. That simplicity, to really let the product speak for itself, became ingrained in me, and it’s still there. I’m good at showcasing the vegetable or animal; farming was a whole new world. When we got produce in a restaurant, it was always pre-packaged or prepped. If it doesn’t look right, you call a vendor and yell, but you’re not in touch with, say, what the weather has been like. I gained a ton of knowledge about product I was receiving. I could see if there was a drought or a beetle infestation. It made me a little more aware. I realized it was important to support local farmers and not just buy what’s popular; we have to support them year-round, and that’s an ecosystem that chefs can really contribute to. It’s easy to get stuck and think, oh, I want this arugula five days a week all year — but that’s not feasible for anyone.
You’ve opened Annette in the Stanley Marketplace, and from what I hear, you’re combining a lot of that philosophy to create the menu. Tell me about the restaurant.
I just wanted to cook for people the way I would do dinner parties at my house. Cooking at my house is the most exciting thing: I get to do everything that I want. I get to serve my guests and give them a piece of me. [Annette] is intimate; it’s only 1,500 square feet, so it feels like my dining room. I wanted this to be small enough that my husband can help and, if we have kids, it can grow into a family business. There are gardens in the back, so I have a chance to grow food. After working at Acorn and with wood fire, I thought, okay, this is fun, I want to do that. So there’s that element behind this. I opened with a really small menu. I’m a bit of a control freak, and I want to be in the kitchen all the time. We have whole grilled fish. We’re working with Seattle Fish Co., using a lot of their bycatch [unwanted fish caught during commercial fishing] instead of choosing one fish and going with it. I think that is a really great step toward getting a little more sustainable. We’ll always have a homemade pasta on the menu, and that will change seasonally. I’m excited for lunch — we have an octopus sandwich on the menu. I’m making all the bread in-house, and I’ve gotten really into sourdough. We’ll use it for sandwiches and bone-marrow toast.
You’ve said before that the restaurant is named for your aunt. What’s her legacy?
My great-aunt; we called her Netsie. I grew up in a pretty conservative Texas family, and she went against the grain. She was the liberal, the Longhorn in a family of Aggies. She always spoke her mind. She was very blunt and honest and sometimes gave rough advice, but sometimes you need that. She didn’t sugarcoat things. She loved a good gin martini. She was a novelist. She didn’t cook, but she really molded a lot for me.
Talk to me a bit about working in a marketplace environment like the Stanley.
There are so many first-timers here. Construction is construction, we’re all in debt, we all have a lot of expectations to fulfill.... I’ve become close to the Logan House Coffee guys because they showed me how to sand something — so it’s an incredibly therapeutic community; that’s been incredible. There are lots of people going through the same thing, so there’s always someone to say, “We’re gonna make this work — it’s going to work.” You need that at the end of the day. You need someone to turn to. That’s one of the best things about this spot.
You’ve billed Annette as “scratch to table.” “Sustainability” and “farm to table” have become catchwords that mean all manner of things these days, but they seem like bedrocks of your vision. So what does it mean to pursue them?
“Farm to table” is overused, and because of that, it’s gotten a bad rap recently. Whenever I say “seasonal and local,” it feels redundant, because that’s how we should be cooking. But I will still have to use beets from California at the end of winter, and that bothers me sometimes. As more farms open and get bigger and start using the land here a bit more efficiently, we’ll be able to keep buying more and more from local places. But for that to happen, we have to keep buying from them throughout the year. I read The Fourth Plate, by Dan Barber, and thought, oh, this is how you do it. You have to support people year-round. There’s an ecosystem; we have to support it or we’re going to burn out each part of it. And it’s a risk to the farm to do more. We need to understand where things are coming from and make other people aware instead of glossing over the words “local” and “sustainable.”
In The Fourth Plate, Barber also talks about cultivating sustainability and eco-friendly farming practices via creating a local cuisine. Is that important for Colorado? Or, given how globalized our food industry is now, do you think having a specific local cuisine is irrelevant?
We are globalized — that’s a fact. But there’s a conversation [about Colorado cuisine] that’s been started — and I don’t know how that gets translated into local cuisine, or how the conversation continues. I’m so bored of all these products I can get so easily but don’t come from here. So I’m asking, who’s growing amaranth or millet locally? If we all start to do that more, we get a much more local cuisine. Colorado has a lot of great local product, but it’s not as popular or known. It’s easy to say, “I’m just going to do quinoa.” It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and seeing what else is out there.... Farmers are getting better at saying, “I have ten pounds of this, could you use this?” There’s a conversation between farmers and people cooking the food. You have to get your hands in the dirt and back in the kitchen and create the relationship.
Are you facing any major fears by striking out on your own?
It’s funny — it’s been all construction all the time for so long, and I’m just now thinking about food again. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night thinking, can I cook? Do I remember how? Really, that’s the one thing I know how to do — but that’s been my biggest fear.
2501 Dallas Street, Aurora
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday