Chef News

Eric Skokan Is Cooking Up Something New at Black Cat Farm in Longmont

Chef and farmer Eric Skokan at Black Cat Farm.
Chef and farmer Eric Skokan at Black Cat Farm. Linnea Covington
A lot has changed for chef Eric Skokan over the past two and a half years. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, he built a handful of small cabanas and started hosting special dinners at his home at Black Cat Farm in Longmont.

The events blossomed, and soon it became hard to get a reservation as people clamored to be served in the cozy outdoor structures. Even after restaurants reopened, customers still wanted a seat, and Skokan is currently working to make the Black Cat Farm dinners a solid fixture on the property. "We had created this great opportunity that was fun and flexible enough, that was also a good fit for the community," he says. "It was a win-win, and we knew we wanted to do it permanently."

The first step toward making that change was to officially end service at Black Cat the restaurant in Boulder, which Skokan opened in 2006. But rather than shutter the Black Cat space, he used it to expand his eatery next door, Bramble & Hare, which he opened in 2012. Now Skokan has two distinct spots: one that's more fine dining-oriented and located in the heart of Boulder, and the other focused on wood-fired foods served at the farm. Both celebrate Colorado's bounty and what the chef grows and raises on his property. 
click to enlarge
The cabanas being built at Black Cat Farm will be permanent.
Linnea Covington
And it's not just the farm land by his house that Skokan uses to support these restaurants. Overall, he leases multiple farms spanning 425 acres, all under the banner of Black Cat Farm. On these plots, he raises lamb and pigs and grows corn, tomatoes, wheat, sunchokes, sesame seeds, peppers, Asian herbs and so much more. Every year, Skokan adds to the lineup, giving himself leeway to experiment with new produce.

While showcasing a tiny grove of saplings near the house that are waiting to be transplanted, he says that he plans to harvest apples next. The goal is to use the apples for making cider, something he's already talking about with a local hard cider company. And given Skokan's track record, that project is likely to lead to pears, peaches and a slew of other fruit trees down the line.

Skokan grows and raises over 90 percent of what's served at his restaurants, and the food is used raw, cooked, pickled and stewed. The goods are also sold year-round at his farm stand, at 4975 Jay Road in Boulder, and seasonally at the Boulder County Farmers Market (BCFM). This is a true farm-to-table operation, unparalleled among others claiming the same description.
click to enlarge
Chef Eric Skokan harvesting strawberries.
Linnea Covington
The chef's venture into farming started about fifteen years ago with a half-acre garden at his home. As Skokan began growing food, he knew he wanted to provide more for Black Cat and find ways to harvest more variety. In 2008, he leased two and a half acres of land, and has continued to add more over the past decade.

It was BCFM that really helped push Skokan to grow the farm. Shortly after the first expansion, the market invited him to sell produce there. He did, and quickly found that it was a great way not only to sell extra vegetables, but also to show Boulder residents the beauty of a carrot, or whatever fresh thing he had on hand. Those early days of the market also helped attract lifelong customers to his restaurants.

Today the land surrounding Skokan's home in Longmont reaches into forty acres of Boulder County open space, which can be leased to people interested in farming and regenerating the land. From his house and the cabanas, you can see fields of lettuces, sunchokes and grains.

Considering the way Skokan has grown his farm, it's not surprising that he would eventually want the restaurant to be right in the heart of it. But while the evolution sounds natural, it was COVID and the city's shuttering of restaurants in 2020 that changed everything.
click to enlarge
If you visit Black Cat Farm, don't be surprised if you run into a friend or two.
Linnea Covington
"When indoor dining was shut down, we pivoted fast, and within two months, we were set up to operate Black Cat at the farm," Skokan recalls, adding that the venture started with picnic tables that evolved into the cabanas. "There was no grand plan other than keeping staff employed and together."

It worked, and by the time Boulder's dining scene normalized, Skokan had added three more employees to help manage the popular farm dinners. Each meal was booked out a week in advance, and it got to the point that seats sold out within ten minutes. He ended up hiring a person just to respond to the disappointed emails and people wondering if the website reservation system was broken.

This year, Skokan's efforts were rewarded when he was named a finalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef, Mountain category. While he didn't take the top prize, the honor is a reflection of his hard work and commitment to quality through the years.

Now Skokan is working to make the Black Cat Farm dinners a solid operation. But, as happens with many new businesses, it's taking a while to get everything up to code, especially the 1893 barn and other structures.

"We're improving the farm as a facility to host guests, which includes building the parking lot, making pathways, and rock work," says Skokan, who is working with Black Cat "head builder and inventor" Kai Seymour on the overhaul of the farm-garden-restaurant. Once done, the restaurant portion will have a handful of multi-person cabanas for dining, space to host events and large parties, handicap access, better bathrooms, and more ways to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds the property.

"It's close to Boulder, but it feels like a million miles away," the chef adds. "I love being here to cook, and having this as my workplace is magical."
click to enlarge
Chef Eric Skokan keeps up the morale of some of his favorite workers.
Linnea Covington
But it's also emotional for Skokan and his wife, Jill, who manages the books, among other things, for the farm and restaurants. On July 24, 2020, during one of the early farm dinners, a speeding dump truck crashed into a convertible that two of the Skokans' sons were in, right outside the door of their home. Seventeen-year-old Kelsey was killed, and the couple's older son, Ian, nearly lost his life as well. The truck also drove through the family's house, destroying what would have been youngest son Avery's room. Fortunately, Avery had just switched rooms with his brother, or he could have been struck, too.

The tragedy shadows everything Skokan is working for, but as two burly work dogs vie for his affection, he notes that some days are better than others. The family is healing, he says — or at least trying to.

Despite the trauma and the memories, the Skokans wanted to stay in their home. They rebuilt the house, and the farm became an anchor. In a way, Skokan says, the work building the new restaurant right there helps him heal, knowing that his son would have liked it.

Skokan's son's memory drifts around the farm in wisps. But as the chef pushes to finish the cabanas and create a beautiful space to highlight the bounty of Boulder County, he truly demonstrates how to weather a storm, no matter the damage. And food, the binding factor that nourishes, heals and inspires, is at the crux of it all.

Black Cat Farm is located at 9889 North 51st Street in Longmont. For more information, including updates about the return of the farm dinners, visit blackcatboulder.com. Bramble & Hare is located at 1970 13th Street in Boulder and is open from 5:15 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit brambleandhare.com.
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.
Linnea Covington moved back to Denver after spending thirteen years in New York City and couldn't be happier to be home, exploring the Mile High and eating as much as possible, especially when it involves pizza or ice cream.
Contact: Linnea Covington

Latest Stories