Cafe Society

More predictions, rants and raves from local chefs on the culinary trends of 2011

Yesterday, several local chefs -- Michael Long (Aria and Opus); Eric Skokan (Black Cat); Brandon Biederman (Steuben's); Brad Rowell (Colt & Gray); and Troy Guard (TAG and TAG Raw Bar) -- dished on the culinary trends that would shape 2011, sounding off on what they'd like to see more (and less) of in the coming year. And today, we're bringing you the forecasts from numerous other kitchen wizards, including Matt Selby, Jennifer Jasinski, Jamey Fader, Max MacKissock, Jeff Osaka, Spencer Lomax and Chad Clevenger, all of whom did their part to make Denver one of the best dining destinations of 2010.

"As we continue to climb out of this recession, we could see a return to high-end dining, and high-end ingredients, but within reason and with discipline" says Matt Selby, chef of Vesta Dipping Grill and Steuben's. In addition, predicts Selby, 2011 will mark the comeback of dessert. "Pastry chefs will return to fun and elaborate presentations, though, again, within reason, and non-pastry chefs will begin to experiment and think more in terms of non-savory recipes." Selby also foresees the "beginning of recognition for the cooks and sous chefs who build up, sustain, and bust ass for big name chefs," and, says the chef, pork -- blasphemy! -- "will no longer be the sacred beast of chefs." Instead, claims Selby, "fresh, seasonal and sustainable fish and seafood will become the new pork."

"I'm no good at predictions," insists Jennifer Jasinski, who oversees the burners at Rioja, Bistro Vendome and Euclid Hall. "I sometimes fight trends, since I hate being trendy." Still, Jasinski believes the experimentation with sous-vide will continue, and she's even signed up to take a class at the Culinary Institute of America on advance sous-vide techniques. "It intrigues me, although I definitely think that some chefs overuse this technique, when the old fashioned ways taste better," she admits.

As for ingredients, Jasinksi says that she's "always looking for that next cool thing -- or that farm that no one has heard of." She predicts that preserved lemon -- "It's a great flavor builder and enhancer" -- and ice vinegar as a finishing vinegar will be hot in 2011, and she's betting that there will be a resurgence in Italian cuisine. "I hope it yields something, and Eataly, that huge Mario Batali-Bastianich store in New York Intrigues me, and people are generally comfortable with Italian," notes Jasinksi. "I do think that Euclid Hall formed a niche that was wanted in Denver, and that it'll excel in 2011. People want great food in a casual atmosphere but not cookie-cutter corporate shit-like chains."

Max MacKissock, the mighty bean of the Squeaky Bean, believes that Denver restaurants "typically follow the same paths as restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco," even if our own culinary climate takes a while to catch up. "We're just a little bit later," says MacKissock. "In the coming year, I think that we'll see a lot of chefs trying to understand the native Colorado terroir and forage locally. There are a ton of edible plants, flowers and mushrooms that grow here, although I hope that people who do start to forage go with someone experienced so as not to kill their guests with a toxic twig and berry bouillon."

Additionally, MacKissock foresees an upsurge in the way that restaurants will utilize social media. "It's an amazing way to show followers what's happening in your restaurant on a daily basis, and people who are smart with it can completely replace spendy advertising dollars. In an industry with slim margins, this will help a lot of bottom lines."

Ingredients, predicts MacKissock, that will be big in 2011, include sustainably-farmed fish. "They're doing a beautiful sturgeon that's being raised sustainably in the Snake River that's out of this world," he says. MacKissock, for his part, is focusing on growing different varieties of heirloom vegetables. "I'm growing everything from tomatoes to radishes, and sometimes I've got to wonder how the shwag tomato variety that we all buy at the grocery store become the one that we know of as the tomato." MacKissock also predicts that the state will continue to pave the way for locally-produced wine, spirits and craft beers. "We have more brewers than just about anywhere." Last, but not least, MacKissock insists that "pies are cupcakes version 2.0" -- and here to stay.

"For me, there's a lot to be said for getting back to basics," says Jamey Fader, the culinary ringleader of Dave Query's Big Red F restaurant group, which includes, among other restaurants, Lola. "I'm noticing that many chefs, including myself, are taking the time to really embrace some of the craft that's fallen, for one reason or another, by the wayside. I'm seeing more and more smoking, curing, braising, charcuterie, consommes, Wellingtons and the like making their way back on menus -- only they're appearing with some contemporary flair," explains Fader. "Our seemingly steady progression toward simpler, local and more thoughtfully procured ingredients has been the catalyst for me."

Fader also has high hopes that 2011 will be the year of the goat. "Tyler Wiard from Elway's and a few other guys have been dabbling successfully with Colorado goat, and it's really yummy," claims Fader, who recently collaborated on a goat-centric dinner with Zolo Grill exec chef, Brett Smith. "The main course was a green chile-braised goat and it was sublime. It's such a rich meat with a great flavor profile that really works with a lot of the ingredients we have out here -- stone fruit, apples, chiles, corn, for example."

Fader also has a hunch that pies are going to gain momentum in 2011, right alongside the "new-age-cold-bar-meets-Mexican-sushi-raw bar-funk that we'll launch in early January at Lola."

Fader, who spends a lot of time cooking at culinary events, believes that 2010 will continue to see the collaboration of chefs banding together to raise the bar. "It seems that every week, some group of chefs or cooks are getting together to do something cool and on their own terms. We really have a great community of chefs in Denver and only good things can happen by putting these minds together for a common goal," concludes Fader.

As for what Fader would like to see less of in 2011, he cites "crappy service." Food, he says, "is what we sell, but hospitality is what we all should be offering. Real, earnest, knowledgeable, friendly, and accommodating service is the hallmark of a great restaurant."

And he'd like to see some changes to the rating system employed on Yelp. "I love that there's a forum for diners to discuss their experiences, and I appreciate what Yelpers do to help keep the dining scene in Denver alive, but I dislike that the rhetoric is quantified into a single rating," laments Fader. "There are nuggets of truth to be found in many Yelp reviews, but it's hard to swallow a one-star rating because someone pulled on your door when you weren't open."

Spencer Lomax, the culinary director of Snooze, admits that he'd like to see "fewer over-the-top, opulent steakhouses entering the market in favor of more independent, unique, neighborhood concepts." He also wishes that more restaurants would subscribe to better ingredient sourcing. "I'd love to see more and more local restaurants use ingredients from betters sources, whether that means local, organic, or from smaller producers," he says.

"I'm not sure if it's a trend, but back to basics cooking -- slow-braised meats, a simple roasted chicken, using fresh herb and spices and things that are familiar -- is something that I see on the horizon for 2011," says Jeff Osaka, executive chef/owner of twelve. In addition, Osaka predicts a year of kitchen-swapping -- "chefs switching restaurants for an evening, or even chefs opening restaurants together as a way to fight the economy by combining talent and money."

Osaka says that house-crafted foods -- cured meats, cheeses, breads, honey from local farms -- will continue to shape 2011, as will Korean food, casual restaurants and canning and jarring. Chicken, he believes, will make a comeback, making "pork second flute," while molecular gastronomy will lose some of its luster. "I'm not sure it'll fall by the wayside, but I think we'll see less of molecular cooking. I did all that in L.A., and while it went over well, and I have the capability of doing it in Denver, I choose not to."

Chad Clevenger, who runs The Porker cart on the 16th Street Mall, hazards a guess that restaurants will increase their use of game meats, while simultaneously catering to vegetarians. "It's kinda sad that there aren't better and more creative vegetarian dishes coming out of restaurants, so I hope that improves next year," says Clevenger, adding that "mixology will continue to grow and play a huge part in a restaurant's success."

Food trucks and carts will continue to pop up, too, predicts Clevenger, who will soon roll out a truck and possibly another cart to help bolster Denver's burgeoning street food scene. "Modern takes on ethnic foods and cuisine will increase in popularity, while more restaurants will partake in farm-to-table settings," he notes, adding that "hopefully more chefs will continue cooking from scratch, making their own pastas, breads, cheeses, cured meats and ice creams."

And unlike some of the chefs who foresee a lull in molecular gastronomy, Clevenger begs to differ: "l think molecular gastronomy will gain exposure in Denver," he asserts, adding that he's looking for a Koch vacuum sealer and a circulator so he can cook sous-vide on his cart.

But that's not Clevenger's only goal: "I'll get another restaurant in Denver in 2011, and I'll be a Top Chef in this town, whether it's because of a restaurant or a cart," he muses. And the ingredients that he wants to cook with in 2011? Heritage pork, sustainable fish, local produce, local cheeses and local artisan bread, not to mention specialty salts, oils, vinegars, and, he says, "crazy ingredients that aren't used in everyday cooking or on many menus -- things like huitlacoche, black garlic, epazote and aji amarillo chiles."

We'll eat to that.

Follow @CafeWestword on Twitter

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.
Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson