Editor’s Note: there are two interviews included, so make sure to read all the way to the bottom.
Freshest of Thymes with Christine Ruch of Fresh Thymes Eatery
It’s amazing how a single experience can change the direction of your life. Sometimes we don’t even notice those moments. Sometimes their impact is immediate.
For the majority of us, we are who we were raised to be. If you were raised playing baseball, for example, you might grow up to love baseball and enjoy going to games. With food, it’s the same. If you grew up eating microwave meals and steakums with an occasional backyard BBQ thrown in the mix, you might grow up thinking that fast food and convenience foods at home are exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Just like mom used to make, right? In fact, you might pass those traditions on to your kids.
Christine Ruch is not the average person, though, and not the average chef, even for a health conscious food paradise like Boulder. Every chef I’ve spoken to has said something along the lines of, I’ve always loved food, I learned from my [insert matriarch], or I was raised in a home where fresh food was valued. Admiration goes to the families who’ve been able to pass down great food traditions to their young ones. Not all families are like that.
Christine Ruch was not that person. Raised in Arizona – “in a conventional home, my mom was not a great cook. Sorry mom” – she grew up on exactly that: microwave foods, convenience items, barbecues. A home cooked meal was rare, going out for a meal was rare. “It was a great day if one of two things were happening on the weekends for breakfast. Number one, a Winchelle’s Donut box was on the counter when you wake up. Or, even better, if Dad made chorizo and eggs.”
Every chef has an origin story: 19 year old Christine Ruch was working at her “very first job in the food business”, as a hostess and bussing tables. The night of her very first shift she sat down for a meal on the restaurant, and experienced what good food was, what well-crafted, well-curated, well-presented food was, and it changed the direction of her life. “I’ll never forget that first night. All the food and hustle and the kitchen and waiters tipping me out and…I was just so invigorated and I just knew, that night, that I was never going to do anything else.”
Boulder is all the better for it. Ruch “has spent more than a quarter century in the food and beverage industry, and she hopes that number does more to boost her cred than it does reveal her age”. She has experienced an incredible range of occupations in that time, from working in fine dining, front of house, food trainer, food stylist (it’s a real thing), culinary instructor, caterer, natural chef, dietary consultant, running restaurants, personal chef, private chef, and – now – the brilliant mind behind Fresh Thymes.
Ruch opened Fresh Thymes on 30th Avenue in Boulder with the goal of contributing to the health and well-being, to the dietary preferences and palate, of local Boulderites. She’s on a section of the loop replete with sports facilities and health spots, right down the street from Boulder legend The Cork. I suggested that, as popular as she is, she could easily have a spot on Pearl Street. Her response? Essentially, everyone loves Pearl Street but Pearl Street is a destination location. She wants to have a neighborhood spot, a daily eating spot.
The kind of chef who works up menu changes at home rather than at her work kitchen. Her family is used to iteration after iteration of food at home as she works toward the outcome she’s looking for. The food she serves in Fresh Thymes, in other words, is the exact food she makes for her family, “food that everyone wants to eat regularly. These are all things I would make for dinner at home.”
“I want people to feel surprised by the unexpected environment. I combine the best of full service, to be the kind of place you want to sit down, with all the conveniences of fast casual, order at the counter, get something to go quickly or hang out and relax. When people leave, what I want the most is for them to feel really good. The best compliment is when people can leave feeling really nourished and feeling just really good.”
A self taught, learned on the job, cooked a lot at home, obsesses over food type of chef, Ruch was 40 when she got her culinary degree in holistic nutrition. That means taking healthy ideas, doctors orders, and diet directions and turn“that all around and show you all the things you can eat to achieve your health goals.” Inspired by her own experiences living with Celiac Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, “Ruch knows all about how real, nourishing food can make all the difference in your health”.
Understanding “what grows when and why” and why “the earth gives us certain foods at certain times” is a true specialty of Ruch’s. Fresh Thymes is currently planting a farm to supply their otherwise locally sourced needs (she’s made 6 links on the Good Food 100). She’s looking at the nuance of meals, the healthy forms of staple ingredients, the nutrient densities, because she loves “sexy food. I love vegetables, I love acid, I love heat, I love fiery. At the end of the day, the food I like the most is everyday food done exceptionally well, in a surprising way.”
And that’s exactly what she’s serving at Fresh Thymes. They participated in Natural Wine Week as well, hosting a wine takeover on April 16th. Stop in for excellent food and drink. In fact, stop in everyday. This is good food, everyday food.
As I was leaving, I saw a young woman finishing up in line with a to go order. She walked right past me, straight across the parking lot, into the neighborhood behind Fresh Thymes. She walked home. And that’s exactly the legacy Ruch wants. To be a great restaurant, serving amazing food that people will remember. Locally.
The Art of Approachable with Candy Campbell of BIN 46
There’s something about first-class dining that’s unavoidably elegant. It’s a difficult thing because, unless you were raised going to these kinds of restaurants, they can often seem unapproachable or intimidating. Even still, we almost universally want to experience the white tablecloth, full place setting, switching out glassware for the type of wine served, tweezer food presentation type of dining experience.
Part of that is cultural mystique. I’ve never seen a movie with a romantic storyline that didn’t include a high-end dining, first date scene. BIN 46, in Longmont, is what owner and Chef Candy Campbell called approachable fine dining. When I sat down with her for a multi-course meal and several glasses of very good wine from their 500 bottle cellar that has been complemented by some of the best wine connoisseurs in the world, we had a conversation about what it’s like to be a seemingly bourgeois restaurant in a working-class city. Everything on the list is something Campbell liked and knew she could pair with her food.
Campbell says she’s a traveler, explorer, media person, entrepreneur, former magazine owner and restaurateur – “I like the stories, I like people’s stories. This works well because, to me, food conveys stories. It’s cultures and history and your great grandmothers, how they came to the table to have great conversation and how you bonded…everything you ate had meaning.” It’s a powerful statement when you’re a glass of waiting on the first dish, a braised lamb lentil soup (the wagyu beef from 7X farms is to “decadent”). Bon appétit.
My favorite question to ask is why are you? It’s a question that’s open to interpretation. Campbell’s response is indicative of her can do attitude, her determination to own her world and be successful: Because I can. I am because everybody else steps up to it. You are what you get to accomplish because of the team you have.” Building the team – like me building variations of toppings on the gorgeously fresh, sourced from Jax, caviar-topped Kumamoto oysters, is what takes the skill. Not everyone can do that.
“Geeky in school, not a lot of friends…a dancer”, the logic of “being who I am because I put myself in a position to be expressive” carries over into food service. A great team in the kitchen helps, Leroy and Cory, the fully self taught, no training Campbell doesn’t “have to spend as much time in the kitchen, and I like what they’re bringing to the table.” Food inspiration comes from everywhere, she tells me, as we wait for Leroy to come tell us about the duck confit with a berry gastrique that reminded me of Bourdain’s “waking up in a hotel with sticky fingers” riff . Campbell creates with an attitude of “I can make that…” when seeing amazing foods, which influences the whole of BIN 46’s output.
While all the restaurants that have been in that location before have failed, BIN 46 has been there for four years and they’re only getting stronger, never turning down a donation request – “it’s just good juju”, hosting community events like the Chalk Festival, packing out the house for private parties and events, and participating on the Beer Trolley route.
Don’t let the casual fun confuse you. Campbell is quick to admit her kitchen has tweezers, with reason. They’ve joined an illustrious group of celebrated chefs with signed plates at the Stanley Hotel’s Cascades Restaurant and Lounge. They’re counted among the best restaurants in the region – not just Longmont.
Spring’s arrival has brought out the acts of joy, now that surviving the winter has passed. In fact, we eat different when it’s warm. “Winter is a little darker”, and then spring hits. Our bodies want to lighten up with heirloom tomatoes, summer squashes, vibrant greens, “the excitement of new colors and new flavors.” In fact, it’s time for new foods and, in spite of Longmont not having the downtown core or “being set up” for upscale dining, they’re creating and cultivating a generation of diners who recognize and value excellence. “It’s all about the details. You just watch people and think, ‘what do they need?’”
BIN 46 shows that you absolutely can be a high-end restaurant in a working-class neighborhood and succeed even if some people still don’t know they’re there, or think Boulder is the only place to get a meal besides burgers and beer. They’re moving the needle on excellent, well sourced, local food, creativity in the kitchen, approachable attitudes in the dining room, and a willingness to teach. It’s all centered around Campbell, who’s described on their website as “Owner | Cook | Bottle Washer | Hostess”, and who has a heart for creative expression in many forms, the most recent being this lovely, delicious, warm, and welcoming fine dining establishment in Longmont.