This is part one of my interview with Nadine Donovan, pastry chef of Old Major; part two of our one-on-one will run tomorrow.
It's 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, four hours before Old Major opens for happy hour. Behind the transparent jars of spices that front the open kitchen, the cooking crew is prepping turkeys for a TV shoot and jamming out to metal. Executive chef Justin Brunson swings open the door to the meat locker, where five, maybe six fleshy, freshly slaughtered pigs dangle from heavy chains. The glass-enclosed, USDA-approved charcuterie den, exposing the glory of curing sausages, stops a curious couple dead in their tracks.
See also: Behind the Scenes at Old Major
Squatting squarely in the middle of the dining room, the sausage ropes are a huge tease; no wonder the passersby are captivated. "I'm so sorry. We're not open for lunch, but please come back for happy hour. We open at three and would love to see you," says Nadine Donovan, Old Major's pastry chef. The man and woman nod in affirmation while slowly making their way toward the entrance, pausing a few more times to admire the rusticated interior.
"Things are going really well here. We're busy, I love the people I work with and our guests, and I want to be here a long time," says Donovan, who was born in London, Ontario, and wound up in Denver after her parents took the scenic route through America on their way to British Columbia. "They packed up all of their stuff and tossed everything, along with two kids, in the car for a cross-country trip through the United States before moving us to Victoria, but when we stopped in Denver, we never left," remembers Donovan, who comes from a long line of pastry chefs.
Her great-grandmother owned a bakery in Wales, her grandfather was a bread baker in Manchester, England, and her mom spent the majority of her career as a professional pastry chef. "It totally runs in my blood," says Donovan, whose first exposure to the restaurant world came at fourteen, when she was hired to scoop ice cream at Parisi, a gig that also allowed her to later experiment with pastries and desserts.
And it was at Parisi that she met Bob Blair, now the chef-owner of Fuel Cafe. "Bob was running the deli counter at Parisi. We had a great relationship, and he taught me a ton about food and everything you'd ever want to know about cured meats," says Donovan, who stayed at Parisi throughout high school, eventually leaving to work at Fuel, the RiNo restaurant that Blair opened in 2007.