Chef News

Punch Bowl Social's Jeff Grimm Talks About Serving Keith Richards and Hunting Elk

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He continued cooking to make money while in college at Western Connecticut State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in art and art history. And he continued supplementing his love of food with trips into New York City, frequenting Little Italy and other places he could afford. But he knew all along that his career was in the kitchen; even his college education added to his appreciation of the artistry of food and cooking rather than steering him in another direction. "I couldn't imagine doing anything else," he recalls. "You get bit by the bug -- it's a love of everyone you meet: cooks, customers, managers."

Hunting was another influence in his love of good food. "I grew up doing that with my dad," he says; elk and duck were the main targets. "It's one of the things that drew me to the culinary world. Breaking elk down on your own -- it gave me a healthy respect for food." After processing the animals themselves, he and his dad would make sausage and come up with creative uses for the prime cuts.

After college, Grimm moved around more and was working in Seattle when his family moved to Durango. "I wanted to be closer to them," he explains, "so I moved to Colorado." He found a job in Pagosa Springs at the Alley House, an upscale destination restaurant, where he again found an environment that appealed to his sense of community. But eventually, Grimm wanted a little more than small Pagosa Springs could offer, so he moved to Denver, starting out as a hotel chef at the Marriott before finding work in the restaurant scene. Most recently he was at P17, starting just before owner Mary Nguyen switched the concept from Asian-inspired to neighborhood bistro.

Grimm describes his cooking style as eclectic, even though he had extensive experience with classic French and Italian cuisine. He's interested in incorporating international and regional flavors and styles into modern menus, which is one of the reasons Punch Bowl appealed to him. He uses the menu's Big Windy Dog as a good example; it's a simple and humble hot dog elevated -- with a quality bun from the Grateful Bread bakery and house-pickled vegetables -- and made a little lighter and fresher with an apple-cabbage slaw and mustard cream sauce. He's also a fan of Southwestern flavor: "It's something different from my roots back East."

Punch Bowl culinary director Sergio Romero recently completed a menu update, so Grimm's focus for now is on maintaining quality and consistency. "I do that by working day to day with the cooks," he states. "I consider myself a working chef. It's about being part of the team -- getting yourself in the mix and seeing what works and what doesn't." He estimates that about fifteen percent of his time as an executive chef is spent on administrative duties, and the rest is spent working with Romero, coaching his crew -- and actually cooking. "The hierarchy is important," he explains, "but so is taking on whatever needs to be done."

Being a chef is about more than just cooking, but Grimm sums up what could be good advice for just about any line of work: "It's loving what you do and every aspect of it." Those aspects include the people who have taught him, like the Amatuzzis, the family who owned the little Italian place where he got his start, the community of fellow chefs and the respect they show each other, the people who spend their money in restaurants. And, of course, the food.

"I like getting my hands dirty and working for people," he adds. "I'm so passionate about it, I can barely put it in words." To help him with that task, we gave Grimm a few questions to answer.

Keep reading to find out the connection between Jeff Grimm and Keith Richards

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation