Just got off the phone with Troy Guard, former crown prince of the Jim Sullivan restaurant empire. I him caught up in the mountains in the middle of his preparation for the Telluride Festival of the Arts, going on today through Sunday. He’s holding down the culinary side of things with help from Top Chef winner Ilan Hall, cookbook author and TV personality Mary Ann Esposito, Alejandro Barreda (the executive chef of one of Mexico’s two biggest TV stations—basically a Latino Emeril), Betty Fraser from San Francisco, Telluride’s Kelly Patton and Denver’s own Elise Wiggins from Panzano.
But Telluride was not what I wanted to talk about. No, I was looking for information about his new restaurant, TAG, scheduled for a February 1 opening at 1441 Larimer Street, and some confirmation of the rumor that he’d been spending some of his downtime pimping for Daisy Cottage Cheese.
We decided to deal with TAG first, and I asked him, after a year’s worth of almost-maybes and false-starts, whether or not TAG was a done deal.
“Yeah,” he said. “Got it. Finally. It’s been a long time coming.”
He’s going into the gig with partners—three of them, one being Joe Vostrejs and his Larimer Square gang—and has been careful about setting up the deal. After a year out of the kitchen (time spent doing event dinners, catering, consulting in and around Denver, in South Beach and San Diego), he doesn’t want this to be delayed by anything.
The space at TAG (which is eponymous—his middle name is Atherton) will be “interactive,” he says, with a two-story wine wall accessible by library-style rolling ladders, an open kitchen and modern, “visually stimulating” design. Something else he learned in that year in the jungle? How to talk like an owner, hit all the buzzwords, talk without really saying much at all. Part of this is because the space isn’t fully built out yet, so nothing is for sure. The other part is the owner’s natural defense mechanism of elusiveness in response to the vagaries of the restaurant business.
He was the same way when talking about his team—saying that, like some kind of revolutionary leader, he had his troops assembled and just waiting on his word. “I’ve got my team,” he told me, saying that these were all guys that he’d worked with before over the past five years. More to the point, these were all guys who were working elsewhere—placed in kitchens around town, ready to assemble like Voltron when Guard gave the high-sign.
When it came to the cuisine, he was somewhat more specific. “I’m calling it continental social food,” he said. “To me—and I know you’re not a big fusion guy—I wanted to do a little bit of everything.” So the board will be eclectic, local as much as possible, international where appropriate. It’ll be fun food, borderless, unconstrained by nationality—the kind of stuff he’s been doing since leaving the employ of Roy Yamaguchi and bringing his weight to the Denver scene, a menu informed by his own travels, his past kitchens, his personal favorites: Mexican and American by way of China, Japan, Hawaii and elsewhere. And that opening date? He thinks that’s solid.
“I think we’ve got plenty of time,” he explained. “Joe [Vostrejs] and I think we can get everything done.”
TAG out of the way, I asked him about the cottage cheese rumor, and he confirmed that as well: that the Daisy Brand was rolling out a new cottage cheese line and that they were looking for some chefs to flog it for them. “Fortunately, I was one of the lucky guys,” he said—seriously, without a touch of irony in his voice.
To that end, he’s been designing some recipes for Daisy, working the PR machinery, trying to get the stuff into the hands of chefs and working the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market with tubs of promotional cottage cheese near at hand.
“Isn’t it weird how, the longer you stay in this business, the less time you seem to spend in the kitchen?” he asked. “It’s why I’m looking forward to this restaurant. I’m just dying to get back into the kitchen.”
And I’m sure he’ll be bringing some Daisy cottage cheese with him when he goes. -- Jason Sheehan