The new wing of the Denver Art Museum, dubbed the Anna and John J. Sie Welcome Center, has been slowly taking shape over the past year, with stunning concave windows added just a few weeks ago that scallop the circumference of the circular space slated to become the museum's restaurant. Just what that restaurant would be has been a mystery up until now, but a James Beard Award-winning chef has been tapped to lead the effort.
Chef Jennifer Jasinski, co-owner of Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall, Ultreia and Stoic & Genuine, will serve as the consulting chef for the Ponti, as the new eatery will be called, named for the DAM's original architect, Gio Ponti.
Jasinski, who was named Best Chef: Southwest by the James Beard Society in 2013, is designing the menus for the Ponti and will also be in charge of hiring and training the staff. The restaurant is not slated to open until June 2020, so a complete menu is still a long way off, but the chef says there will be a focus on vegetables, ancient grains, heirloom legumes and other local and seasonal items.
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"It will be vegetable-forward, but not vegetarian," Jasinski notes. "Since it's mainly open at lunch, I wanted to think about the kind of food I'd want to eat if I was visiting the museum during the day. So we're looking at lighter food, not so rich and heavy — like what we do at Rioja, that type of finesse, that type of love, but with an emphasis on lunch."
The restaurateur has worked with BOSS Architecture at her own restaurant openings, and the firm is designing the interior of the Ponti, along with Jessica Doran Interiors. "The building itself is going to be a piece of artwork — as it should be," Jasinski says. "I'm just so excited to be part of such a beautiful project."
Culinaire International, a Dallas firm with experience running other museum restaurants, will be in charge of operations at the Ponti, but Jasinski says her role as consulting chef is a long-term commitment and she considers the position as important as running her own restaurants, since her name and reputation will be part of the Ponti's success. Culinaire has also been recognized by the James Beard Society, earning a Best New Restaurant nomination in 2017 for Esker Grove in the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
The Ponti will take up 3,715 square feet in the new wing, which includes the main dining room, private dining and an outdoor terrace. The wing will also include Cafe Gio, a quick-service restaurant also run by Culinaire.