Chef/restaurateur Jeff Osaka opened 12@Madison at 1160 Madison Street on December 15, 2016, and in a few short weeks before the end of that year proved to Denver that we were right in mourning the passing of his first fine-dining establishment, twelve, when it closed two years previously. And alongside Osaka was chef de cuisine Ashley McBrady, instrumental in helping 12@Madison earn our Best New Restaurant award for that year.
McBrady was part of Osaka's team well before 12@Madison, having staged at twelve while still working at Potager, and coming on board at Osaka Ramen and Sushi-Rama with the promise of helming 12@Madison's kitchen once it opened. But McBrady is ready to move on and will serve her last dishes at the restaurant this Friday, September 7, before taking some time off from the chef life.
"It's been an awesome adventure, and it's been a crazy couple of years, so I just need to take a breather," McBrady explains. While she's not sure where she wants to land once she's ready to return to professional cooking, she knows that right now she just wants to do some camping and other activities she's missed out on.
Like Osaka, McBrady grew up in Southern California, where she fell in love with the seasonal bounty and culinary diversity. Her parents owned a restaurant and production bakery, so she was exposed to the scene at an early age, and pursued her passion in Portland, Oregon, before coming to Denver.
"Ashley has that California sensibility in her cooking," Osaka points out. "I'm sorry to see her go — but she'll go on to great things. It's not a negative situation; it's part of business. I hope she got as much out of it as I did."
McBrady has overseen a menu at 12@Madison that has shifted with the seasons, giving her the opportunity to build a repertoire of original dishes. "The creativity is such a huge part of it," she notes.
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One of McBrady's favorite creations over the past year and a half was her duck agnolotti with pickled plums and beets, while Osaka points to the chef's jerk-style cauliflower with wild rice as a recent standout.
With his chef de cuisine on her way out, Osaka is seeking a fresh face in his kitchen. "I'm looking for someone who wants to cook and is creative, someone who wants a little more freedom and a little more responsibility and can manage a small staff of three," he explains.
That sounds like a simple assignment, but then 12@Madison's strength has always been the deceptive simplicity of its menu — thanks in large part to McBrady.
While Osaka is sorting through résumés, he'll also be preparing for an upcoming adventure; he's been selected as one of sixteen chefs who will participate in the James Beard Foundation Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. The gathering, on September 9 at Shelburne Farms in Burlington, Vermont, will focus on teaching advocacy skills and "creating progress in their communities," according to the JBF. Other participants include Eduardo Jordan of Junebaby in Seattle, Kristen Essig of Coquette in New Orleans, Lisa Donovan of Buttermilk Road in Nashville, and Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina.