"Everyone knows the story of the wolf in sheep's clothing — but not a lot of people think of the people who make the wolf's clothing." That's chef Kelly Whitaker's explanation for the name behind his latest venture, a restaurant in Sunnyside called the Wolf's Tailor that will build on Whitaker's detailed explorations of Japanese and Italian culinary traditions.
Whitaker elaborates that it's the people doing the work behind the scenes that eventually create something noticeable and significant — people like the farmers growing heritage grains in Colorado, cooks spending decades perfecting something as seemingly simple as grilling skewered meats over oak charcoal or rolling one shape of pasta over and over, and even tailors making aprons, knife rolls and restaurant uniforms.
The Wolf's Tailor won't be a Japanese or an Italian restaurant, though. Instead Whitaker will channel the techniques and cooking styles he's learned from his visits to the two countries to build something new. "It's really telling the story of what I want to cook," he notes.
Like his first restaurant, Basta, the new project involves fire. "Essentially it's a charcoal kitchen," he says, noting that he hasn't run a kitchen with stoves in more than seven years. "It's going to feel like the vibe of a yakitori in Japan."
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So remove the wood-fired dome oven at Basta and replace it with open grills fired with binchotan charcoal, made to burn long and hot with minimal smoke. Add four distinct seating areas that will offer slightly different experiences for diners, and don't forget the Italian influences; there will be noodles as well as skewers adapted from both Italian speidini and Japanese hibachi cooking.
The restaurant space is located at 4058 Tejon Street and is owned by Paul Tamburello's Generetor group, which has redeveloped other restaurant properties like Linger, Ophelia's Electric Soap Box and Cobbler's Corner (where Bacon Social House, El Jefe and Cheese + Provisions are located). Whitaker notes that Scott Lawrence and Kevin Nguyen, the two architects who were responsible for the design of Hop Alley, will handle the interior. In addition to 2,000 square feet inside, the Wolf's Tailor will also encompass outdoor space behind the building that Whitaker plans to use as a kitchen garden.
The chef is aiming for a March or April opening, but adds that "it's not the type of project that we're rushing."
In addition to Basta, Whitaker heads Id Est Hospitality Group, which runs Ash (or æ) a mobile kitchen and catering company, and also does restaurant consulting. In that capacity, he's helping launch Acreage, a new farmhouse restaurant from Stem Ciders coming to Lafayette in January. The chef also recently launched the Noble Grain Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring heritage wheat, corn and other seeds to Colorado farming.