We've all been witness to the incredible gastronomic shock wave that has shaken up the Denver dining scene over the past several years. But much of it began more than a decade ago, when a bold group of chefs and restaurateurs introduced upscale eateries that could hold their own in any U.S. city. That strong foundation has gained notice on the national level, and several early architects just earned semifinalist slots in the 2016 James Beard Awards.
Up for outstanding restaurateur is chef Frank Bonanno, who opened Mizuna in 2001 and has since gone on to please Denver palates with everything from the upscale Italian of Luca to the righteous ribs of Russell's Smokehouse.
In the Outstanding Chef category, Jennifer Jasinski made the list for modern Mediterranean gem Rioja, which she opened in 2004 with partner Beth Gruitch. Since then, the two have opened Euclid Hall, taken over Bistro Vendome and launched Stoic & Genuine. Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson opened Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder the same year that Rioja debuted; their homage to Friulan cuisine is a semifinalist in the Outstanding Restaurant category.
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And in the Best Chef: Southwest field, Alex Seidel gets props for Fruition, which he opened in 2007. One of Seidel's first big Denver gigs was a four-year stint as executive chef at none other than Mizuna. Also in the field are Dana Rodriguez, who ran the kitchen at Bistro Vendome before wowing the city with her soulful menu at two-year-old Work &Class, and Acorn's Steven Redzikowski — who was the opening sous chef at Frasca and went on to co-found Oak at Fourteenth with Bryan Dayton before unveiling Acorn just over two years ago.
Rounding out the Colorado semifinalists is Element 47 at the Little Nell in Aspen, recognized in the Outstanding Wine Program category.
Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on May 2 in Chicago. See the James Beard Foundation website for more details and for a complete list of semifinalists from across the country.
Colorado has no representation under Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Baker, Outstanding Bar Program, Outstanding Pastry Chef, Outstanding Service, Rising Star of the Year or Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional . We think there are plenty of great Colorado representatives for nearly all of these awards; who would you pick?