“You never know everything, even when you’ve been doing it for thirty years,” says Kim Moyle, the new executive chef at the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa. And that’s the fun of working in kitchens, she continues. As a chef, her job has never stayed stagnant, and that's especially true now as she takes on the job of refreshing the menus at the historic hotel’s six restaurants.
Moyle is the first female executive chef at the Brown Palace since its opening in 1892, a distinction she only learned about after she took the position. She explains that she’s more of a back-of-the-house kind of chef, someone who molds to the style of each kitchen she works in, while also striving to push new ideas.
The first reimagined menu Moyle is rolling out at the Brown is for Palace Arms, the hotel's Napoleon-themed upscale restaurant that has been operating since 1950 and reopened on May 27 following a pandemic-related closure. On both the dinner and dessert menu, Moyle focused on elevating traditional offerings with new presentations and locally sourced products.
Moyle’s introduction to the restaurant industry was more happenstance than intentional. She began at a breakfast house in western Pennsylvania after attending music school and realizing it didn’t suit her. As a waitress, she not only took orders, but also made some of the meals herself, and found that she liked cooking better than interacting with customers. (“Most chefs aren’t really people people,” she notes.) Shortly thereafter, she began apprenticing through the American Culinary Federation.
A few years later, she landed her first “big break,” as an executive sous chef at the Sundance resort in Park City, Utah. “It was before Sundance had expanded into what it is today. It was still privately owned by Robert Redford,” she says. “We were picking and growing our own produce. It was my first farm-to-table experience with gardens.”
That opportunity to create menus based on the garden’s availability inspired a fast-paced work environment where Moyle and her staff changed the menu on a weekly basis. “I was in crazy chef mode,” she says. It was a huge undertaking made possible by the seemingly endless supply of energy they all had in their young twenties, she adds; every week they would begin to plan the next week’s menu while still cooking meals from the current lineup.
Her experience in Utah also introduced Moyle to new styles of cooking. She had grown up making and eating predominantly Italian food in Pennsylvania. But in Utah, Mexican food was much more common. Years later, working at the Sheraton Music City in Nashville, Moyle learned about regional customers’ love of mac and cheese and deep-fried food.
Exposure to different cooking styles is part of what makes Moyle such a versatile chef. “When you’re a chef, you’re a chameleon. You have to be. Everywhere you go is different,” she explains. She always tries to understand how the kitchen and venue work before she implements any changes.
She’s used that approach at the Brown Palace. There are many items on the Palace Arms menu that are a nod to the institution, like the raspberry mousse and champagne Napoleon cake that reflects the Napoleonic decor in the dining room, and the griffin potatoes, a potato casserole whose name is inspired by the griffins featured in the building's architecture. Moyle also aims to keep some of the traditions, such as the tableside Palace Arms Caesar salad, while adding new options.
Moyle is also bringing in products from two Colorado purveyors she worked with during her time at Devil's Thumb Ranch in Tabernash. The Palace Arms menu now highlights Mystic Mountain Mushrooms in dishes like a wild mushroom tart, and also serves beef from Grand County's Fitch Ranch. And as she gets more familiar with the Denver culinary scene, Moyle hopes to bring in even more locally sourced products.
The changes at Palace Arms are just the beginning of Moyle’s work at the Brown Palace. Next on the list are Ellyngton's, known for its Sunday brunch buffet, and the vintage pub Ship Tavern.
While she is excited about the creative process, Moyle is also trying to strike the right balance as the staff regroups from the pandemic. Some former restaurant employees have changed career paths, and some workers have been hired on a temporary basis. Others are trying out restaurant work for the first time. “I’ve seen an influx of students coming in. I have six of them in my kitchen right now. That’s a beautiful thing,” she says.
Moyle likes teaching, which includes lessons in everything from how to correctly wash dishes to keeping a cooking station clean. Kitchen work is not glamorous, and it doesn’t often come with a big paycheck. “You have to have it in your blood,” she explains. But she’s stayed in it for so long because of all the unexpected surprises days in the kitchen can bring.
Still, some surprises catch her off guard, like realizing she was the first woman executive chef at the Brown Palace, a discovery she made after taking the job. But in retrospect, she's honored.
“The opportunity to breathe new life into an iconic establishment such as Palace Arms is an absolute honor,” she says. “I am excited to share a delectable yet approachable menu, made for everyday dining instead of just special occasions, and we’ve worked hard to deliver classic moments with a modern twist.”
Palace Arms, 321 17th Street, is open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 303-294-3659 or visit brownpalace.com.
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