Food News

Give Thanks for Chefs Like Jen Jasinski, Who Just Keep Giving

Chef Jen Jasinski helped the snow go on for the NSCD.
Chef Jen Jasinski helped the snow go on for the NSCD. NSCD
This strange year has been tough for nonprofits and independent businesses alike.

While the National Sports Center for the Disabled, the fifty-year-old program that provides recreational activities for people with disabilities, wasn’t able to host the fundraising events it had anticipated in 2020, supporters did step up with anniversary gifts. One of the more remarkable was the move by Crafted Concepts, the restaurant company founded by award-winning chef Jen Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, to help out with Dine4NSCD, a virtual chef experience that included a custom cocktails-and-dinner kit, as well as a Zoom with Jasinski giving commentary and cooking instructions.

But Jasinski offered more than that: She and executive chef Gabe Wyman prepared fixings for close to 200 meal packages, which were delivered the day of the feast to everyone who’d signed up for the fundraiser by NSCD volunteers.
It was a labor of love at a time when Jasinski has been offering a lot of that, helping numerous charities even as she and Gruitch scramble to operate their four restaurants under ever-changing conditions. “This was a beast,” Jasinski admits. “With us being so tight on staff and costs being so tight, we did a ton of this work ourselves. I probably put in sixty hours total.”

She also had to put in a lot of thought on just how much advance work she needed to do for a meal that people were supposed to finish preparing themselves. “We really do all the hard work for the guests,” she explains. “I make sure it’s easy to do at home. I choose items that travel well and are not too delicate.”

While “curried cauliflower veloute” and “Japanese cloud cake” might sound plenty delicate, the meal was a snap to prepare, especially when accompanied by Jasinski’s instructions. (It also helped that the soup and dessert courses arrived finished but for the garnish...though you did have to cook the pre-assembled pasta and the salmon.) And the donations didn’t end there: Crafted Concepts also gave 10 percent of all meals served to NSCD supporters at Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Ultreia and Stoic & Genuine that night to the charity. Other sponsors helped out, too, donating cash, in-kind services and such ingredients as Tito’s Vodka and Laws Whiskey.

By the end of the evening, the NSCD had grossed a tasty $63,000, which the organization will use to continue providing services on the slopes and beyond.

You don’t have to prepare food for a big event as Crafted Concepts did in order to help out, however, Jasinski advises: “Just give to the NSCD."

You can do that here.

But don't stop there. In this strange year, give thanks not just to the NSCD, but other worthy organizations like Historic Denver, which is also celebrating a fiftieth anniversary this year. And to businesses like Crafted Concepts, which may not be as long-lived but continues to make good food and do good works from its home base of Rioja, located in Larimer Square, Denver's first historic district.
click to enlarge Rioja's heated patio will be open this weekend. - RIOJA
Rioja's heated patio will be open this weekend.
I ate at Rioja on March 16, the night before restaurants closed to on-premises dining for more than two months. I grabbed to-go there the day it introduced its Feast on the Fly to-go program. I ate there again in late May, on the first day that restaurants were allowed to reopen dining rooms under strict guidelines. And I've been back to eat on its patio on Larimer Street, now that restaurants are again closed to indoor dining and only allowed to offer to-go, delivery and outdoor options.

That patio isn't open on Thanksgiving Day — Jasinski and her crew had already made more than 200 to-go Thanksgiving dinners before closing for the holiday — but this weekend, Crafted Concepts will continue with business-as-unusual, cooking for customers, planning more special online events, and helping other organizations at a time when it could certainly use support, too.

That's a real reason to give thanks today. Find out more here.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun