The signature signs of a city that's on the culinary fast track reside in its willingness to take aggressive risks, push infinite boundaries and continually adapt to a fickle dining public whose expectations are always on the upswing. Denver is that city -- a major metropolis that refuses to slow down, unleashing triumphant restaurants, watering holes and breweries commanded by innovative masterminds, the likes of which have resulted in a James Beard Award-winning chef, nationally crowned cocktail champions and Einsteins of beer.
See also: Welcome to Westword's 19th annual DISH
As a prelude to the September 22 DISH, Westword's annual celebration of the Denver dining scene, we picked the brains of nearly fifty Denver chefs, all of whom weighed in on Denver's current culinary landscape and the trends that have made their mark this past year. But that's not all we wanted to know: We also wondered which ingredient best personified their personalities and what ritual was an integral part of their daily routine.
Herewith the dish from Troy Guard, Paul Reilly, Chris Cina and Kyle Medenhall; watch for more installments over the next several days, and don't miss part one and part two of our DISH chef series, both of which ran earlier this week.
Troy Guard TAG, TAG|Raw Bar, TAG Burger Bar See also: Troy Guard's latest gives people what they want: fun on a bun
What don't people know about you that you wish they did? Most people might not be aware that I've partnered with Clayton Early Learning to help kids get a better jump on life. We planted twenty gardens for the school, and I go there once a month to read books to the kids. Our first moonbeam harvest, which will benefit Clayton Early Learning, will be on September 19, with fifteen top Denver chefs. It's going to be awesome.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? A shower, breakfast, watching SpongeBob Squarepants with my daughter Grace, and listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I'd love to be Flash so I could be in more places, including my restaurants, hang with my daughter, travel for inspiration and do more community work.
What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? So many awesome, passionate chefs and restaurateurs are expanding and getting to share more of themselves, their restaurants and new concepts. I still don't know why people get so pissed off and uptight when we expand, because we're pushing boundaries, giving people jobs and raising the bar both locally and nationally. I love the people that take chances and keep pushing forward.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? I think there are a lot of people to watch right now - I can't say just one. We're surrounded by so much passion, drive and talent.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Bok choy. It's got a light and sweet flavor, crisp texture and good nutritional value, and while it's silent, it packs a punch.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? It's on fucking fire, and has been for some time. Let's not try to keep up with the Joneses. What makes the Denver dining scene so special is that we do it for our communities, this beautiful state and us. I'm proud to call Colorado my home and proud to cook and work with such amazing people.
Paul Reilly Beast + Bottle See also: First look: Beast + Bottle, Paul Reilly's new Uptown restaurant
What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I'm already a TV star - no, really, I am. When I was twelve, I was on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, a PBS show. I kicked ass, making it all the way to the final round, where I had to run around the studio on a giant map of South America and identify all the capital cities using a siren on a pole to lock in my answers. Unfortunately, I missed the last one - Bogota, Colombia. I figure Bogota is my Achilles heel. If I ever go there, I'll probably die. We're gonna have a big viewing party at Beast + Bottle someday and replay the show. You're all invited. BYOB.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I've cut way back on my coffee consumption, switching to water instead, but I do have one cup within ten minutes of waking up every morning, and that jump-start means the world to me while I hang out with the family and plot out my day.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? The ability to summon any ingredient in any quantity. We fly pretty much by the seat of our pants in our kitchen and we don't have a lot of room, either, so we end up riding thin on a lot of things or running to the store on the fly. The Marczyks must love us for that; it works, because we love them, too.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? I'm going with fajitas, because you always know when they're entering a room.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? Alex Seidel has lead us before, and I think he's about to that again when he opens his new venture at Union Station. There's no doubt that he'll be reinventing the way we think about local dining...for the second time. I can't wait to check it out.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? The single biggest thing holding Denver back from national culinary acclaim is the farmers' markets: They suck! We can't create a culinary identity until the farmers' markets improve. C'mon, chefs, let's use our knowledge and talent to get Denver to demand better. That said, I've seen an enormous improvement in the markets this year, specifically Highland and City Park. Get this: There are real farmers there with people buying local produce and talking to those farmers. These markets aren't just biscuits-and-gravy and hemp sweaters. But we're still not there...yet.
Chris Cina Breckenridge-Wynkoop See also: The scoop on Session Kitchen, the new Platt Park restaurant from Breckenridge-Wynkoop
What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I collect mortar and pestles sets, but they have to be used or non-traditional. I have this beautiful, old (and heavy) iron mortar and pestle from a German apothecary. The collecting drives my wife nuts because I like to display them all over the house when I find an empty nook, and when I'm not watching, she'll quietly put them back in my office. Someday I'd like to shoot a mortar-and-pestle coffee table book.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Reading bedtime stories to my girls. My position now affords me the opportunity to be home at night for the most part, which is something I definitely missed when I was spending my nights in the kitchen.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Time manipulation. I have three little girls that are growing up so fast, and I'd like to slow that down a little. Plus, all my restaurants would have seven-second ticket times.
What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? I don't know if there's any specific trend I've noticed over the last year, but what I would like to see is Denver - and Colorado - start to create some trends that go national.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? John Little over at Harman's Eat & Drink is one of the most intense and driven young chefs I've met in a long time. We tried to recruit him for Session Kitchen this summer, but he had other aspirations as well as a great relationship with Mark Fischer, so I think he definitely ended up in the right place. He's a force to be reckoned with in Denver if for no other reason than sheer will.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? I truly believe Denver has arrived as a culinary player. There's a market like never before for creative, interesting and unique concepts and cuisines. Unlike twenty years ago, when I first came to Denver, there are good restaurants on every corner now. We've finally gotten to that point where good restaurants outweigh mediocre ones.
Kyle Mendenhall The Kitchen See also: Best Snapshot of a Season - 2013: The Kitchen Denver
What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I had my five minutes of rock star fame playing on stage at Red Rocks...once.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Kissing my wife and kids goodbye in the morning.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? A truffle-sniffing nose would set me up for life.
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What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? The realization that Colorado offers a lot of great locally made foods and drinks.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? Theo Adley at the Squeaky Bean. He's got his work cut out for him, but I think he'll be a great fit.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Eggs - they're good at keeping things together.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Exploding with greatness in people, food and energy.