What a difference a year makes.
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Not long after Kittelson was terminated, he was scooped up by Justin Cucci, who owns Linger and Root Down, a second location of which will open August 21 at Denver International Airport. And since May of last year, Kittelson, who initially started in the Linger kitchen, has been putting in time at Root Down, where he was just promoted to the exec chef job, a newly created position."I'm super-excited," says Kittelson. "It's a great opportunity and I'm really, really pleased."
Victor Mena, the current chef de cuisine at Root Down, is stepping down in September to pursue other opportunities and spend more time with his family, explains Kittelson, who's equally pleased that Mena will continue to share space with him on the line for a few more months. "Victor is stepping away a little bit, and I'm stepping in, but he's supporting me until he leaves, and I'm thankful for that," he adds.
And despite Kittelson's new title, not much, he says, will change at Root Down. "Bringing me on as exec chef gives me a sense of leadership and more responsibility, but Root Down has a very captive audience and from a concept and stylistic perspective, this is the kind of food that I already like to create," he says. "Dishes that are well-established will remain the same and so will the the vegetable-focused fundamentals and our commitment to local, organic and sustainable ingredients -- that's our cornerstone -- and I'm going to keep building on that," says Kittelson.
That's not to say, however, that he won't stamp the food with his own spins. "We're going to change the soups, salads and a few entrees, and I'll add my own global characteristics, to the food to accentuate flavors and textures, but ultimately, the philosophies are still the same: to create memorable and lasting impressions that continue to keep people coming back," he says.
Kittelson also has his hands in the DIA Root Down project. "I'm working on the kitchen design, hiring and training staff and setting up systems, but my home base will be the Highland Root Down for the near future," notes Kittelson, adding that the opportunities given to him by Cucci have made this past year an extremely good one. "I so appreciate working with like-minded, honest people -- that's been fantastic -- and I'm thrilled to be leading a great kitchen in Denver -- that's what I've wanted to do ever since I moved here in 2011," concludes Kittelson.