Chef News

Meg Grace Larcom on Local Sourcing, Neighborhood Dining and Hedge Row

Meg Grace Larcom is expanding local sourcing to a national audience.
Meg Grace Larcom is expanding local sourcing to a national audience. Laura Shunk
It’s been thirteen years since the first Kitchen opened on the west end of Pearl Street in Boulder, where it quickly became a regional bastion for farm-to-table fare and launched a restaurant group that today has outlets across the country. In August, that group opened Hedge Row in Cherry Creek, a concept built around a wood-fired oven and shareable platters that echo the Kitchen’s ethos of local, sustainable sourcing. Overseeing Hedge Row’s menu — and the menus at the Kitchen bistros, too — is Meg Grace Larcom, who cooked under Danny Meyer and owned a neighborhood eatery in New York City before relocating to the Rockies. We recently chatted with her about the calculus of responsible sourcing, how to preserve a neighborhood vibe in a growing restaurant group, and the item she always keeps in her pantry, thanks to her six-year-old.

Westword: You guys just opened Hedge Row, which is a new member of the Kitchen family. Tell us about it.

Meg Grace Larcom: Hedge Row is a little bit more casual than the Kitchen bistros are currently; this is the model that we want to replicate moving forward. You can’t really replicate and move forward with the Kitchen in terms of brand identity or trade name. We wanted something more scalable, which goes with our heartland strategy of moving into mid-sized markets. So there won’t be any more restaurants called the Kitchen. We’re trying to keep the menu to a place that’s highly shareable — that’s the goal. We want people sharing food and tasting lots of different things. That’s different from the bistros; this is not first course, second, third. We have the wood ovens, and we’re going back to some of the more simple plates that they were doing at the bistros in Boulder eight years ago. We’re going back to our roots, focusing on getting great ingredients locally. We’re keeping it simple and reliable.

Any dish highlights you’d like to call out?

I really love the wood-roasted chicken and the mole-braised short rib. I think those are some dishes that will stick around for a while and get better and better.

You started with this group about a year ago. What drew you to the Kitchen?

One of the really attractive things about this job is the mission: There’s still a huge focus on supporting local as much as possible, and then there’s this challenge of scaling. It’s super-challenging and fun. Whether we’re in Memphis, Indianapolis or Chicago, we look for key partnerships we can establish with a smaller farm, and how we can support them to grow with us. It’s sort of a two-way street: Some small outlets don’t want to grow, and some are ready to. We take some of that emotional connection that you want with the farmer and say, how do we translate that? The most intriguing part of my job is figuring out those relationships and how to bridge that gap with the farmers and local artisans.

click to enlarge Wood-roasted artichoke with caramelized leeks and olives at Hedge Row. - MARK ANTONATION
Wood-roasted artichoke with caramelized leeks and olives at Hedge Row.
Mark Antonation
What does local mean for you and the Kitchen?

It’s more than just a 300-mile radius. We have things that are hyper-local, things that are grown here, made here and delivered to your back door. Then there are things we can define as relationships — stuff that doesn’t grow in Colorado, but we have a connection to the people who are working with that product. Our chocolate comes from Nathan Miller, who is a former employee but now works out of Pennsylvania. That’s not local, but we consider that a win, because we’re supporting someone we have a relationship with. We’re trying to make smart, sustainable choices, so our definition is a little flexible: We support other people who are trying to do good work. We work with a sunflower-oil producer here — the oil is grown here, pressed here and processed for Hedge Row. If my alternative in Chicago is some weird processed canola oil, then I’m going to the sunflower oil from Colorado, because it’s the smarter choice.

Talk a little about your years in this business. How did you get interested in food?

I don’t have the Grandma story — my mom would maybe be a little disappointed to hear me say that. I started cooking in college on a whim. I’d been through two or three majors, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was at Louisiana State, and my college roommate’s mom was the food editor for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. I got exposed to the food culture through her. I thought, is this a career? I went to my guidance counselor at LSU and asked, how can I get out with a degree, and how fast? Suddenly I was a psychology major graduating in two semesters. I moved to New Orleans and got a job working at Brennan’s; I was a line cook in the French Quarter for a few years. Every choice after that was about the next learning opportunity. I started traveling — I went to San Francisco and Dallas, and then decided I really wanted to get to New York, so I enrolled at the French Culinary Institute. I was in New York for eighteen years. I left for a brief stint to go to the West Indies on a consulting gig and then went to D.C. for a while, and then I went back to New York and worked for Danny Meyer. I did the MOMA opening in 2003-ish, stayed for three years, and then opened the Redhead in the East Village.

The Redhead! That’s a great neighborhood spot.

We were 100 percent focused on food and experience. We were a small restaurant, a total neighborhood restaurant, and we wanted to be that place that people go to and are comfortable at twice a week. A neighborhood joint with really great food. People would come in and say, “We really love your concept.” We’d say, “This is a concept?” We had a minimal budget, and we were happy doing it. We were happy to be part of the conversation.

click to enlarge Shwarma steak salad. - MARK ANTONATION
Shwarma steak salad.
Mark Antonation
So you sold that to come out here?

Life happens. I was in my thirties, got married, had kids, and my business partner had kids, and all of a sudden, that studio in the East Village was no longer enough. We decided to leave New York. We still have an ownership stake; we left capable people in charge. We moved to Seattle and were there for two years when I started looking for my next project. The Kitchen came on my radar — the HR director was a server and intern at MOMA. There’s a point when all your worlds start to overlap. I came out and met everyone, and now we’re here.

The Kitchen was really a neighborhood restaurant at the outset, and it seems your community focus is trying to make sure it continues to be one as you expand. How do you preserve a neighborhood vibe while growing into multiple outlets?

It’s super-challenging. A lot relies on us delivering a consistent product from the back of the house. I think it’s important not to try to get wrapped up in our egos and make this anything more than a really great dinner: Let’s just deliver a really great experience nightly and not worry so much about changing everyone’s world. People will gravitate toward that. Your neighborhood place isn’t the same as my neighborhood place. We want to capture that feeling of walking in and the staff knows who you are.

click to enlarge Crispy fish tacos. - MARK ANTONATION
Crispy fish tacos.
Mark Antonation
What’s always in your fridge or pantry?

Peanut butter — I have a six-year-old. This time of year, watermelon, corn and really good tomatoes. I could eat that for three months straight without complaint.

Do you have a go-to late-night snack?

Fish tacos. Especially if I’m in a hurry and need something before I drive back to Boulder.

What about a shift drink?

Cold beer. Nothing fancy. The colder the better, and nothing too hoppy.

What do you cook at home?

I don’t. My husband cooks at home. I might bake on the weekends. In the summertime, we make ice cream; it’s a hand-cranked situation. But at home, there’s no one to clean up after you. That’s a real luxury of a commercial kitchen.

Hedge Row
100 Steele Street
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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.
Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk