Cafe Society

The Kitchen's Hugo Matheson thinks small...with a big list of starters

Talk about coincidence: Long before this week's review of The Kitchen Denver came out, I began mulling over the reasons for the restaurant's starter-heavy menu. Economics? (People order more of them, driving up the bill.) Grandstanding? (A place to strut local, organic and seasonal ingredients.) Mission builders? (That whole "community through food" thing, since bar snacks buy time for folks to sip, chat and make friends.)

See also: - The Kitchen's Hugo Matheson on escapism, a contrary vegan and fair wages - Attention to detail would safeguard the Kitchen's brand in Denver - Behind the scenes at The Kitchen Denver (slide show) - New Cafe critic Gretchen Kurtz dishes up a few words on her philosophy

So my curiosity was piqued when Pete Wells, restaurant critic for the New York Times, sparked a debate around the same time with "The Big Problem with Small Plates". In it, he laments the fact that small plates are A) unappetizing after they've been split four ways and B) sources of frustration because the last bite you really want is already in your friend's tummy. Small plates, the argument goes, are simply too small to share.

With all this jostling around in my brain, I went straight to the source: Hugo Matheson, chef/co-founder of the Kitchen. A soft-spoken, thoughtful man, he kindly took my call after preparing breakfast for his boys on a day off from school.

"Being able to eat without having to commit or feel guilty for spending sixty dollars on a full meal, that's the reason behind the starters," he said. Besides, he added, "you can have fun with them as a chef and a customer."

Some might interpret that through a cynical lens, seeing the starters as a moneymaker and little else. I can be a cynic myself, but in this case -- knowing what I know about the delicious and amply-portioned peach bruschetta, mussels and merguez -- I'm prone to take Matheson at his word.

Are you?

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz