The Preservery, which opened in RiNo’s Backyard on Blake development this spring, is a product of its time: part market, part live-music venue, part restaurant and more. The relaxed, community-minded operation is a far cry from the intense, Michelin two-star restaurant in London where chef de cuisine Brendan Russell spent time, but not in the way you might expect — i.e., screaming wasn’t necessary to produce those results. “Kitchen dialogue between staff members was short and sweet,” says Russell. “There is such a thing as a silent kitchen.”
Keep reading for more of Russell’s experiences in the Michelin-ranked eatery, his thoughts on upcoming food trends, and what’s on his bucket list. (Hint: It may or may not involve off-road racing.)
Westword: If you were talking to a friend, how would you describe the Preservery?
Brendan Russell: Many friends ask me what the Preservery is about. I often find myself chuckling and saying, “Do you have a minute?” In reality, the Preservery is about building community and connections with many different groups of people. Yes, we are a restaurant/bar/bakery/market/deli all under one roof. But most important, we are a team with different talents catering to our fellow friends and neighbors, with a comfortable environment where one can eat amazing food, listen to live music and take home farm-fresh eggs for the morning. In a nutshell, the Preservery provides all the essentials one needs, with some added entertainment.
What were you going for when you designed the menu? Was there a principle you built the menu around?
When planning the opening menu, I was thinking about our location and guests. I consider RiNo to be in the big leagues of up-and-coming restaurant neighborhoods. I spent several days just observing the streets — Blake, Walnut, Larimer — to see what kind of people were out and about. Young, hip, creative, daring individuals roamed the streets of RiNo, as if it were Brooklyn’s little sister. I felt inclined to have a mix of comfort items such as halibut and braised short ribs, in addition to some slightly edgy items like octopus and pig ear. Where my dishes stand out is the flavor development and compatibility with spices and cooking techniques. If I had to put a style on what I’m going for, I would call it modern Mediterranean.
Quick bio: How old are you, where else have you worked, where did you go to culinary school, etc.?
I am 29 years old. While in Colorado, I cooked at ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro and Frasca Food and Wine. I attended culinary school in New York, at the Culinary Institute of America. My background consists of Mediterranean, Asian and Indian cooking techniques.
If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing right now?
If I hadn’t become a chef, I would most likely have gone down the path of sports medicine. While in high school, I volunteered at Steadman Hawkins Clinic. I was so fascinated with joints and injuries to the body that I felt inclined to know more.
How long have you been in the business?
I began cooking when I was sixteen years old. The human body and food are two things that have always interested me throughout life. I wanted to learn more about food, so one day I spontaneously walked in the front door of La Tour in Vail and asked for the chef. I was shown to the kitchen. Chef wanted to know WTF I wanted, and I asked to work there for free to learn about food. Chef Paul (amazing mentor of my early years of cooking) took me in and began the grooming process for my career ahead.
You spent time at Foliage, a Michelin two-star restaurant in London. What was the most important thing you took away from that experience?
London — what a time of my life. I worked under chef David Nicholls, claimed to be one of the world’s finest hotel chefs. He was the mastermind behind the restaurant Foliage, located in the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, offering exclusive, intimate fine dining with a hyper-focus on sourcing the finest organic produce whenever available. The philosophy was to give each ingredient the utmost respect in the preparation and presentation process. It was classical French with a gastronomic modern twist. The biggest takeaways from working there were discipline, passion and dedication. Without these, you will go nowhere in life. If you lose one, you will become lost. These are the three pillars of personal success that cannot be taught but only instilled, in my opinion.
Help our readers understand that special something that defines the kitchen of a Michelin two-star establishment. How does it differ from the kitchen in other restaurants, even very good ones?
In a Michelin two-star establishment, most customers don’t understand the quality of food being provided or the attention to detail being performed by the back and front of house. Sourcing ingredients is one of the most crucial and important factors in running a high-end establishment. Local foragers, hunters and fishermen were more involved than usual. Healthy relationships with purveyors were most important. For example, every morning there was a hired diver for sea scallops out of the English Channel.
The fishermen also provided living seafood every morning, so preparations were à la minute — to order. Rabbit that was served on the menu was also hunted fresh daily. Vegetables were grown by local farmers to the establishment’s desired appearance and age of growth. Most vegetables were so fresh, they were still sitting in the planter boxes. We cleaned and sliced veg to order for most garde-manger dishes. Respect for all products is one of the main focuses in Foliage’s kitchen. Dairy was brought to the restaurant warm, straight from the udder. It made understanding quality ingredients a reality…. Chef would call in an order one time. You were expected to call back, memorize and organize the timing of courses going out to different guests without a flaw. Discipline and attitude from the staff is important. If all employees had the same respect and understanding of food, there could be a Michelin establishment in Denver.
What are the up-and-coming trends that diners should expect to see in Denver over the next few years?
Upcoming trends in Denver that I envision are fast-fine (fine dining with an eclectic flair); utilizing unique, hidden spaces with artful service; and an influx of more niche cuisines (regional foods vs. Continental cuisine).
You’re a Colorado native, so you can appreciate how far our dining scene has come. When did things start to change, and what do you think led to the boom?
As a native and in a younger mindset, food was great only in Aspen or Vail. To hear that Denver was becoming a foodie anchor in the U.S. only strengthened my beliefs in the food community and chefs we harbor here in our city. Chef Lon [Symensma] coming to Denver and opening ChoLon really put us on the map.
What’s an ingredient you can’t get enough of right now?
Citrus of all sorts. There are so many different varietals, all with fun applications and unique preparations.
Biggest flop you’ve ever served:
Pommes dauphine with cocoa powder and spicy mustard.
I’ve read that your mom is a talented baker. When you were growing up, what was your favorite thing she made?
Cinnamon rolls! I have memories of getting up early in the morning and being able to frequently touch and eat the raw dough. The nostalgia of the experience is what excites me, and has helped me build a leadership style that creates a serious and focused workplace with a personable attitude.
If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Chicken paprikash with sour cream and fresh parsley.
In terms of restaurants, what’s one of Denver’s hidden gems?
Z Cuisine. It puts romantic and ethnic feelings to Denver cuisine.
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If you had been voted something in high school, what would it have been?
Nerdy baseball jock.
Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it?
Continue traveling. Live with different tribes and cultures. Sail. Do the Baja 1000 or Pan-America races. Open my own restaurant. Write a book. Own a warehouse full of antiques. Kick my fear of skydiving.
When in Rome…
The xx, Of Monsters and Men, and Brand New.
The Preservery is located at 3040 Blake Street; call 303-298-6821 or visit thepreservery.com.