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Patrick Hartnett exhibits a healthy new menu at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The learning doesn't end with the exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature 7 Science. Since Patrick Hartnett, former exec chef at Kachina Southwestern Grill, was named executive chef at the museum, he's been making some serious changes in the facility's kitchen -- and on the menus at its T-Rex Cafe and snack bars. "So many children walk into the museum every day, and they should be getting a healthy lunch," he says. "I want to show kids that eating healthy and local can be delicious!" See also: - The DMNS and Denver Beer Co conduct a wild brewing experiment - Chef and Tell with Patrick Hartnett of Kachina Southwestern Grill - Review: Kachina Southwestern Grill

After all, even though dinosaurs are a popular feature at the museum, there's no reason for the T-Rex Cafe to serve food that should be extinct.

Hartnett did a nutritional analysis and realized that by refining the menu, he could cut down the sodium and calories of all of the dishes by over half. So he started by getting rid of all but one of the deep-friers, and removed such menu items as chicken fingers, corn dogs and tater tots, replacing them with healthier options that include whole wheat pasta salad, homemade applesauce and chicken pot pie.

Hartnett created a burger station that offers pork, bison, turkey, salmon, beef and black-bean burgers; he also added a salad bar full of fresh veggies. He's even making his own pizza dough and sauce. All of the bread and meat (except for the salmon) are sourced locally from Aspen Ridge Ranch, Innovative Foods and more; the produce is locally sourced, too.

Hartnett got interested in food early; his mother was an accomplished gourmet chef who owned a gourmet cooking store and did demonstrations. He got his official start in the restaurant business as a dishwasher in 1979, and began cooking a few years later.

Now Hartnett has cooked professionally for other thirty years in restaurants, resorts and hotels. (Kachina is in the Westin Westminster -- and Hartnett was let go not long after Gretchen Kurtz reviewed the restaurant, which seemed to have a confused concept from the start, she wrote).

So why not try a museum? "There's a health exhibition at the museum -- how ironic is that?" Hartnett asks. "The cafe needed an overhaul, and that is exactly what we did. I want the experience of the museum to shine through when people eat here."

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The T-Rex Cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, and the Grab & Go snack bar from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Find more information on the museum's website.

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