Some of the best food I've had this year came from the kitchen of Ambria, a Mediterranean-New American restaurant on the 16th Street Mall, whose line was built -- and quarterbacked -- by Jeremy Kittelson, a brilliant kitchen magician whose culinary background is more than impressive: He cooked at Vong, a now-shuttered Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant in Chicago, and he was the sous chef at Blackbird, also in Chicago, before moving to Colorado to open Avondale in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon. He left and was offered an exec-chef position and part ownership of Ambria, "a chef-driven concept, which is exactly what I wanted," he told me when we sat down a few weeks ago for a Chef and Tell interview.
But yesterday, Kittelson was fired. During the height of Denver Restaurant Week. And the news, ironically, was handed down at the Cheesecake Factory, of all places.
"I was called in on my day off and let go at the Cheesecake Factory," says Kittelson, whose sous chef had been fired just moments before. "I was relieved of my position -- told, simply, that it wasn't working out -- and I'm really saddened, because I put my heart and soul into this restaurant, my family invested money to open it and I really cared about what I was doing at Ambria. It was my dream to be a part of this great Denver culinary community."
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His cooks, along with a second sous chef, put down their knives when they heard the news. "I want to make it clear that I did not walk out, and nor did I take my staff with me. I was fired and my staff, all of whom have worked with me in the past, left because they wanted to," Kittelson stresses. "I'm concerned about my staff, a few of whom came here from the East Coast just to work at Ambria," he adds. "I worked with a lot of talented people who are now looking for jobs, and my priority is making sure that I can help them find them."
As for Kittelson, he, too, is looking for a new space to cook. "We're all going to be fine, but I need to let the gravity of the situation sink in and mellow out, and then I'll start making phone calls and sending e-mails," he says. "I really want to find another restaurant, where we can do the same caliber of great cuisine that we did at Ambria. I love it here in Denver, and I'm ready to move on and embrace the next challenge."
We're equally excited about what the future holds for Kittelson -- and Denver.