Food News

New MenuMaster Jen Jasinski Will Open The Ponti in October

Jennifer Jasinski will be inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame on October 4.
Jennifer Jasinski will be inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame on October 4. Rioja
Jennifer Jasinski won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 2013, making her the first Denver chef to ever nab the honor. Now she has another win to add to her résumé: She will be inducted into the Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters Hall of Fame.

"I'm so happy to be with all the people I'm with," Jasinski says. "Boy, it makes me feel good."

Those people include such past MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductees as Jacques Pepin, Tom Colicchio, José Andres, Emeril Lagasse and Jasinski's mentor, Wolfgang Puck. "I remember when Wolfgang got it, because I was working for him," she says.

Jasinski worked for Puck for eleven years as she helped him expand with restaurants around the world. She came to Denver in 2000 as executive chef of Panzano, and then, along with business partner Beth Gruitch, went on to open Rioja, the now-closed Euclid Hall, Stoic & Genuine and Ultreia, and also take over Bistro Vendôme. Meanwhile, Jasinski herself served as a mentor to Dana Rodriguez, who worked first as a dishwasher, then a prep cook at Panzano, moving up the ranks and becoming an executive chef and restaurant co-owner herself when she opened Work & Class in 2013 and Super Mega Bien in 2018. Being inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame is a real full-circle moment for Jasinski.

The MenuMasters Hall of Fame ceremony will take place in Denver on October 4; that month is looking to be a big one for the chef and restaurateur. Jasinski is also the consulting chef on The Ponti, the restaurant slated to debut at the Denver Art Museum on October 24, when the museum reopens its former North Building, now called the Lanny & Sharon Martin Building.

The eight-level Martin Building project has been in the works since 2012, and the Ponti, named for Italian architect Gio Ponti, who designed the original building, is primed to be a destination in its own right. It will be located inside the new Anna & John J. Sie Welcome Center — the circular structure you may have spotted if you've been by the museum this year.

Jasinski is helping to design the menu with the chef she recently hired for the project, Benjamin Love. "We have the menu laid out right now," she says. "It's very vegetable-forward, with heirloom grains, heirloom beans, local vegetables. ... I'm really excited about creating a place where people can go, like, three times a week for lunch and feel good about what they're eating; the food is clean and fresh and bright."

The Ponti will be open for lunch six days a week, brunch on weekends, and dinner one night a week. "The room is very sexy," Jasinski says of the space. "It also feels fresh, and the light will be beautiful for lunch. And, of course, the museum is putting in some really cool artwork that will change regularly."

The welcome center will also be home to Cafe Gio, a quick-service cafe with which Jasinski is not directly involved, "but there's for sure going to be some things that we make at the Ponti that will go out there into Cafe Gio," she notes.

For now, Jasinski is focused on getting the Ponti ready to launch while navigating the post-COVID dining-restrictions world. "We've been building, building, building since January, but just chasing staff," she says. The reasons for the current restaurant staff shortages are numerous, she adds, and include people leaving to start new businesses and careers or opting to stay home with kids.

That's just one of the things Jasinski has had to cope with over the past seventeen months. "Along the way, we learned that we could have been more efficient," she says. "We really have learned some lessons on profitability and are keeping those lessons of production and efficiency."

But this MenuMaster could also teach some other restaurateurs a few tricks about persistence, hard work, and a willingness to share knowledge with others. 
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.
Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin