Cafe Society

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

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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."

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson