Cafe Society

Duy Pham is an artist -- but these days, his studio is the kitchen

When you talk to Duy Pham, executive chef of Epernay, he sounds like a scientist, jazzed about everything from sous vide cooking to the way acids interact with certain foods. But Pham also has an artistic side, which comes across in his cooking. "I've always been into art and try to present my food in a very contemporary way," says Pham. See also:Chef and Tell with Duy Pham, exec chef of Epernay

While many chefs have a certain approach to plating, arranging food in the center or to the left or right, he prefers to let the ingredients and the shape of the plate dictate presentation. "I don't have a format like other chefs do," he explains. "I do it on the spot, very spontaneous, and once I do it, all my cooks lock in."

Pham's culinary artistry brought accolades early. Tante Louise, a French restaurant at 4900 East Colfax Avenue that Corky Douglass ran for over three decades, won AAA four-diamond and Mobile Guide four-star ratings when the kitchen was under the direction of Michael Degenhart and a kid named Duy Pham -- who was just 24 at the time).

Roughly fifteen years and many kitchens later, the power duo of Degenhart and Pham has teamed up again, this time with Pham in the executive role, at Epernay, the restaurant that opened at the edge of the Denver Performing Arts Center eight months ago. The places keeps Pham too busy to do much sculpting. But "I found myself trying to sketch and draw the other day and it was like, 'this isn't good,'" he says with a laugh.

His skills may by rusty with the sketchbook, but on white dinnerware they're still sharp. Now if the service at Epernay, which I recently reviewed, would just rise to the standards Pham sets in the kitchen...

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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