Red Star Deli, pop-up dinners and a chef series all part of chef James Mazzio's vision for Mise en Place Cooking School

It's been an interesting past few years for James Mazzio, whose culinary career took a giant leap forward in 1999, when the then-Boulder chef of the long-gone 15 Degrees, snagged a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef crown. Since then, Mazzio has cooked in numerous kitchens throughout the state, including shuttered restaurants like Renaissance in Aspen and Via and Neighborhood Flix in Denver.

And while there have been obstacles along the way -- he's worked on a few projects that left him high and dry -- Mazzio has spent the last several months opening new restaurants in Basalt and Carbondale -- and he's just embarked on his biggest project yet: taking over Mise en Place, the former recreational cooking school in the Icehouse, at 1801 Wynkoop Street.

"I was bored and complacent in Denver," admits Mazzio, "so I went up the mountains for six months to consult on two new restaurants -- the Brick Pony Pub in Basalt and the Edge in Carbondale -- but while I was there, I was coming down to Denver to teach cooking classes at Mise en Place, and one day in August, when I was at the school, Paula Lueske, who owns Mise en Place, said that she wanted to sell it."

Mazzio went home -- and couldn't stop thinking about the potential. "I couldn't sleep at all that night, and I had a vision, almost immediately, of what I wanted to do with the space, which is a 100-year-old beautiful, romantic building that's perfect for all off the cool stuff that I was envisioning," recalls Mazzio. He and Lueske continued to talk over the next few months, ironing out details, and the deal to sell the space to Mazzio, who owns it with four additional partners, was inked the first week in February.

And the former cooking school, the name of which will change to Studio F, is undergoing numerous changes. On Monday, March 12, Mazzio will unveil phase one of his project, Red Star Deli, a global sandwich emporium that will operate from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. "We're pulling in great products from all the regions that the menu will represent, I'm making the focaccia, smoking a lot of my own meats -- the pork and the chicken -- and I'm making my own pastrami," says Mazzio. "High-quality products aren't that much more expensive than what you get at an ordinary sandwich shop, and my goal is to show people that they can afford a better product than the garbage the mainstream sandwich chains feed people," he adds.

The sandwich board will include everything from a veggie wrap with hummus to a Cajun shrimp salad sandwich to a muffuletta to a Cubano -- and they'll all be served with a choice of macaroni salad, chips or slaw. In addition, Mazzio will pimp daily sandwich specials -- a bánh mì on Tuesday, and a meatball hoagie on Wednesday, for example. "These are all fresh sandwiches, and I'm not pulling the wool over anyone's eyes or giving people empty promises: I'm fulfilling the promise of serving good products that are also good for you," he says.

An he'll have a forty-seat space, where guests can kick back and eat, complete with complimentary WiFi, sofas and chairs, a full-bar -- and cooking action in the huge, gleaming exhibition kitchen that currently takes up a big chunk of square footage in Studio F.

A kitchen for which Mazzio has even bigger plans -- and aspirations. Beginning in mid-April, he'll use the dining space -- and kitchen -- for pop-up dinners, inviting both local and national chefs to take center stage. Each of the dinners will offer two seatings and take place twice a month on consecutive nights; the first dinner, on April 12, 13 and 14, will swagger the talents of Charles Dale, a former Aspen chef -- and another Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef -- who now captains the kitchen of Terra Restaurant at Encantado Resort in Santa Fe.

"Charles is my mentor -- he gave me my first shot in the kitchen -- and having him cook here is just the start of my dream to have chefs in Denver and around the country come to this kitchen and show off their amazing talents," says Mazzio, adding that the visiting "chefs can do whatever they want -- this is their moment to shine in the sun." The pop-up dinners will accommodate forty people, and seats will cost $100 each. Mazzio has also reached out to chefs Ian Kleinman and Jenna Johansen for future pop-up soirees.

And it's possible that they'll also participate in Studio F's chef series, the third component of Mazzio's undertaking. The classes, which will take place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, will spotlight local mixolologists, sommeliers and chefs, including Daniel Asher, the exec of Linger, who's already been tapped to teach a raw foods class. Each chef or beverage mastermind, explains Mazzio, will headline four classes during the course of the month, and the four-class series, limited to 25 guests, will be priced at $160. "It's not cooking school." stresses Mazzio. "You're definitely going to learn some cool things, but it's mostly about the entertainment, playing with food and hanging out with some of the best local talent we have and living in their world." Each series will include demos, hands-on cooking and a meal.

"I couldn't be more excited about the deli and bringing this whole concept to Denver," says Mazzio. There are similar things like this in other cities, and it's been a dream of mine of work with local and national chefs and do some kick-ass food and culinary entertainment."

For more information on Studio F, call 303-293-2224.

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