Cafe Society

Jonah Munson, exec chef of the Walnut Room, on yard sales and mixers

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And opening the bistro solidified his zeal for restaurant life. "I knew this was the course that I wanted to take," says Munson. "I loved cooking and the instant gratification of making something with my hands and seeing how it made people happy. I knew that I'd be in this business for a long time to come."

He and his wife moved to Denver in 2012, where Munson landed at Marczyk Fine Foods as a baker. Soon after, he became the bakery manager, and it was there, while breaking bread with owners Pete Marczyk and Barbara Macfarlane, that Munson says he had an epiphany. "I'd always used what I considered to be great products in my restaurant, but in Georgia, there's not a big local, organic push, and at Marcyzk, they're all about local and organic, and if there was a hard way to do something, Pete and Barb would do it the hard way -- they'd never take the easy way out. And that resonated with me," he acknowledges.

With a wife and a handful of kids at home, Munson eventually needed to earn more bread as well as make it, so he began looking for a second job, which he found at the Walnut Room, as the head chef. It was a full-time gig -- and one that he couldn't pass up. "When I went inside, it was like walking into my restaurant in Georgia; it just felt good, and while there's always something going on -- I call it As the Walnut Turns -- there's so much gratification," says Munson, who in the following interview reveals which restaurants he thinks are underrated and why yard sales are the best place to pick up cookbooks and mixers that stand the test of time.

Describe your approach to cooking: It's traditional comfort food cooked in a healthier way, with a focus on local products.

What are your ingredient obsessions? I love baking with cream cheese, and I always use high-quality cheeses for pizza -- goat cheese, fresh, whole-milk mozzarella, feta cheese and blue cheese. They all make wonderful additions to any pizza. What are your kitchen-gadget obsessions? I've been baking since college, and the thing that I'm still most obsessed with -- even now -- are great mixers. I've purchased them from all over the place, but I've found some of the greatest mixers at yard sales. Some of the older mixers, like Oster, Sunbeam and KitchenAid, were built to mix...and last.

Favorite local ingredients and purveyors: Before coming to the Walnut Room, I was the bakery manager at Marczyk Fine Foods, and I was so impressed with their dedication to supporting local farmers and local products that I've continued that same tradition here at the Walnut Room. We recently added housemade guacamole, fire-roasted salsa and tortilla wraps to our menu, and we bring tortilla chips, our spinach-basil pesto and flour tortillas in from Raquelitas, a local Denver company that's only a block from our downtown restaurant. We're also using sausage from Polidori, another great local company.

One ingredient you won't touch: I love just about everything, but I've disliked pickles ever since I was a kid, and I still won't touch them.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson

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