Boulder County is known for its culinary achievements, with award-winning restaurants, wineries and a culture that not only appreciates food but relishes in the diversity of dining options. We want to know what’s cooking and who’s cooking it. Follow along as we talk to chefs to find out what fuels them – mind, body and soul.
It’s Saturday morning at Tangerine; brunchers have occupied every table, every bright orange booth. Owner Alec Schuler meanders between the narrow aisles stopping to check in with diners in between bites of tempeh hash.
At 46, Schuler is no longer working on the line shouting orders to sous chefs, sweating over a hot station or plating dishes, though he is first and foremost a chef, even as he tries to balance his cycling with raising four kids and running three restaurants.
Like his approach to life, his approach to food is a balanced one. It’s not about one dish, or one ingredient; it’s about the whole of what’s being presented, balancing delicate European cuisine with Americana tastes.
“In Boulder, there’s this inability to leave American sensibilities off the menu.”
Schuler didn’t grow up with an American diet. A first generation American born to an English mother and Swiss father, he spent a lot of time cooking with his mom, who called him “the little gourmet.” His upbringing drew him to Italian and French cooking as he worked toward “mastering restaurant kitchens.”
Arugula was that restaurant where Schuler did things his way, elevating the palates of locals who wanted more than just biscuits and gravy (although he’s made that a part of his Tangerine menu per customer demand).
His mission to chip away at the hardened dietary preferences of those who are stuck to our decadent diets is apparent in his menu, which offers ‘breakfast classics’ with options to eat more (and eat better) than a sandwich and chips. He wants us to appreciate the authenticity of local ingredients and tastes with a bit of sophistication. We are supposed to be a foodie town, but apparently our tastes don’t match our reputation.
“It’s amazing in the small city of Boulder most strip malls have a hidden gem of a restaurant or two. Like in many parts of modern Europe, there is great independent food on every corner. Boulder County is getting there and compared to what was here 30 years, it’s a vast improvement,” he says. He isn’t wrong.
Tall, bearded and still baby-faced, Chris Royster, smiles as he slides into the seat opposite mine as we imbibe on Colorado lamb shank and braised watermelon. Overlooking the city, the lowkey Chopped champion and past Zagat 30 under 30 winner, looks out the large glass window, reminiscing on the landscape of now and then.
Growing up in Hyde Park, New York, Royster is comfortable in the quiet solitude of nature; it’s where his connection to food began – as a child smoking venison on the porch with his father and grandfather.
“To be able to take the animal from the woods behind my grandfather’s house and see it all the way through to being marinated and on the smoker was such an incredible experience and one that not many can say they’ve had.”
Royster’s experience brought him close to food; he understands its origins. Food often means life or death, something folks consuming in a modern world are apt to forget.
Royster, vacationing in Cape Cod as a young child, learned to fish and clam, spending the day fishing, taking what they caught back to the house and breaking it down for dinner. He can still smell the fish on the grill, the clams steaming in butter. “Once we were taught, from then on, it was our responsibility. I’m grateful to have learned that lesson.”
We’ve become dissociated from our food supply, something that troubles Royster. We don’t know where are food comes from, how many miles it travels and what resources it takes to grow in order to sate local demand.
Royster admits BOCO is more in touch with the food chain than most. We are a farming community and educated populace that value sustainability and local crops.
“The farming community that surrounds us, the plethora of great chefs and restaurants, this real focus on great food defines our city.”