Second Helpings

Denver Chefs Blur the Lines Between Sweet and Savory, With Delicious Results


Michael Shiell of Milk & Honey Bar-Kitchen and Solitaire's Mark Ferguson are borrowing a page from a pastry chef’s playbook, adding foie gras to dishes like truffles and bread pudding. But they aren't the only chefs around town cleverly blurring the lines between sweet and savory and, in the process, getting diners to try things they might otherwise skip.

In a sign of this growing trend, Alex Jun used the approach to propel a burger to victory in this year’s Denver Burger Battle. The burger, which won top honors from judges for its brioche-enclosed wagyu beef patty, gained added oomph from an unusual suspect: bone marrow-onion jam. “That extra beef flavor is pretty significant,” says Jun, who was the Nickel’s opening executive sous chef and recently took over following Chris Thompson’s departure. If you missed the battle you can still try the burger, which has since been added to the Nickel's menu as the 7X Ranch Wagyu Burger, for $18. 

At Mercantile Dining & Provision, executive chef/proprietor Alex Seidel takes a similar tack, using not jam but marmalade to explore surprising yet complementary flavors. “We have done many types of marmalade, not just fruit, but onion, vegetable and meat,” he says. “In my opinion, marmalade is a way to introduce acid or bitter to a dish. I haven’t found anyone who wants to eat vinegar and meat alone. It has to be balanced with sweetness.” Currently, Seidel adds duck confit marmalade to a plate of duck breast, quinoa-apple risotto and pickled butternut squash. Duck confit marmalade sounds exotic; after all, how many of us habitually smear a concoction of duck confit, vinegar, shallots and honey on anything?

But to Seidel, the creation isn't far off from something many of us grew up with: sloppy Joe’s. “It’s nothing new,” he says. 
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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz