As mentioned briefly in this week's review of Mel's in Greenwood Village, the original Mel's (the one in Cherry Creek that closed last year) was one of Denver's premier training houses -- a place where it sometimes seems an entire generation of local chefs did their time before moving on to do their own things, open their own restaurants and make names for themselves outside of the cocoon of Mel and Jane Master's namesake kitchen.
This week's list, by way of example, should prove exactly what kind of an influence Mel's has had on Denver's dining scene over the past dozen-odd years. All the restaurants listed below are staffed by chefs who made their bones at 235 Fillmore Street. It's no coincidence that it's also a list of some of the best restaurants in the entire city.
1) LoHi SteakBar, 3200 Tejon Street. Sean Kelly is behind the burners here. Way back in the day, he was brought on to do pastries for Mel's, then went on to open Aubergine, Clair de Lune and Somethin' Else. He also did time in the kitchen at Barolo Grill, run by one of Mel's former partners, Blair Taylor.
3) Elway's, 2500 East 1st Avenue. Tyler Wiard has the grills at Elway's, and has
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for several years now. But before he was a Cherry Creek grillman, he was a Mel's loyalist.
4) Solera, 5410 East Colfax Avenue. Chef and owner Goose Sorenson didn't just do his time at Mel's, he also ran the kitchen at Starfish -- which he eventually bought from the Masters.
And it's funny, because the more I look at this, the more names I see. Doug Fleischmann did time as Mel's floorman, then left to partner with Bonanno at Mizuna and Luca before being killed in a car accident. Cory Treadway did (I think) at least two turns through Mel's before breaking out and working with both Sorenson and Wiard elsewhere. There was Mark Teffenhart and Ben Davison and Adam Mali. All of these guys have gone on to do great things, and I'm sure that I'm still missing some. If you guys out there can think of anyone else who did their journeyman time at Mel's, remind me below in the comments section.
And, in the meantime, all this remembering has made me hungry. I'm thinking LoHi, perhaps. Maybe Solera -- it's been a long time since I last visited Goose's house. Or Osteria Marco, or ...