Seven Chefs: Legendary Top Mobile Chefs of BOCO

Published on: October 6th, 2019

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Garret “Gurt” Safir — Vero

“You live every single day; you die one time.
There’s so much to do. Figure it out. Go do something.”
– Garrett Safir

“Ain’t nobody gunna give it to you” Garret said with a grin. “You want something, go get it. Plain and simple. If you wanna make a change, be the change. If its too easy, its not doing anything for you. Like Billy Joel said, ‘only fools are satisfied’. Plain and simple.” Sage words from the twenty-six-year-old nomad from Hopewell New Jersey. To Garrett, existence is but a playground for exploration and experience, as it is for many of us, but Garrett plays this tune on a higher octave. “If you’re gunna live life, live it.  Fuck up, get arrested, get in trouble, get in a fight, get beat up, get fired, get kicked out, get abandoned…do it, so you know what it’s like.” There’s a Carl Jung reference I could use here I’m sure, but I’ll let Garrett show us the way today.

Garrett came from a bit of a dysfunctional home. Papa was a rollin’ stone, brother was off the rails in his own way, comforts found in trouble and substance, etc. Garrett moved in with a friend’s family at fifteen, worked to pay $800 for rent while going to school…times were bleak. But it only got more interesting from there. At seventeen, Garrett packed a bag, stuck his thumb out, and hitched a ride to anywhere but where he was. *Be Quiet and Drive by Deftones plays loudly off in the distance*. This was no easy road, but that was exactly what Garrett both wanted and needed for his metamorphosis.

Garrett spent a year and a half surfing through the Midwest with no particular aim or direction; taking in the good, the bad, and the ugly for exactly what they were, like any true nomad would. Along the way, Garrett found himself in both different kitchens and situations listening closely and learning intently from everything in his surroundings, not all were of a pleasant nature mind you. Fiery drink, toxic veins, double flatlines, and more I don’t feel comfortable disclosing (even though Garrett himself said to do so). The road was dim, but Garrett managed to wear a genuine smile through it all. To him, experiences like these were essential to his transformation. “I will throw myself in a pit of fire and dance around in it, and you’ll watch me walk out of it in an Armani suit.”

Later on down this road however, Garrett began to harness a profound understanding in community. Having been from a broken home, “family” didn’t hold the same weight as it does for the lot of us. Garrett found himself aligned with a tribe of people of a similar caliber; wanderers. Modern day gypsies. The boundless and free. The family external. And he met this tribe vicariously through a band called “Umphrey’s McGee”. Tattooed across his ribcage, “All In Time” can be found (a song that holds much value to him). “They’re kinda like Phish, except they don’t suck.” Careful Garrett, we’re still in Boulder…

But where is the kitchen in all of this? Where exactly does food come into play for this guy? Well to put it shortly…everything. Food is what he started with, food is what funded his adventure, food is what brought his people to his table (and of course music), and food is where he intends to stay. To him, Vero is more than just slingin’ wings and throwing dough. Its being able to hang out all day with your equals and making delicious food. Its about building friendships with customers, not just taking their money, serving them their order, and walking away. Nooooo the kitchen has more importance to him than that.

“There’s two kinds of people in the kitchen; the kind who’ll pick the ice cube off the floor and the kind who’ll kick it under the ice maker”. Guess which one he ain’t. For the time being, Garrett is enjoying his stay at Vero. 80hrs a week, one day off, five hours of that day off spent at Vero, happy as a clam. He plans to make a move to Europe to further sharpen his culinary skills (and to wander about for a who cares amount of time as well, like any good nomad would), and he plans to one day open up his own restaurant with an ever changing daily menu. Godspeed, Garrett.

What can we learn from characters like Garrett? Well for starters, make a little room for chaos. “If I could go back and do anything differently, I’d probably make it worse because I’d come out on top even better.” Hold no fear. “Buy that plane ticket, drink that drink, ask that girl out, whatever it is, go for it.” “The only person against you is yourself.” Overcome yourself but more importantly, love yourself first and love yourself the hardest. The world that surrounds you will benefit from that love. “Earn it, because nobody’s going to hand it to you. Feel it, because nobody else is going to feel it for you’. And most importantly, ‘Take pride in the food you make. Your guests will thank you for it.” There’s far too many quotes this twenty-six-year-old Yoda fed me, and I wish I could quote them all, but I think you get the picture; live.

Go to Vero and tell him Kyle sent ya. Cheers.

 

Doug-San – Sushi Zanmai

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
-Leonardo da Vinci

They say, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”, and that couldn’t be a truer statement. A lot of us sell ourselves out for a paycheck; holding the feathers we lost from the wings we once created. A lot of us just take the safe route; go to school, get into a safe and practical field of study, obey the law, meet a girl, land a career, engagement photos with flannel and boots in a prairie next to a wooden fence (you know who you are), get married, buy a house, have a kid, etc…I’m not saying this is a bad way to live, but it’s not the gold standard for some. Some of us want to write, some of us want to play music, some of us want to dance, and some of us want to make sushi. Enter Doug-San.

Doug-San was born in Boulder, raised in Louisville (finally, a native!), and eventually found himself studying accounting and finance at CU Boulder. Doug never saw himself in a kitchen before, never imagined it to be the case for the rest of his life either, but as any regular college student comes to learn; being broke comes with the territory. By shear dumb luck, Doug sauntered into a sushi restaurant looking for a job, landed said job, and something magical came to fruition. The course of his life would take a wild left turn for the better.

You see, Doug-San came to the realization that he didn’t want to become some number crunching desk jockey; in business casual dress attire, sitting in an ergonomic chair, rotting away in some windowless office stuffed into a cubicle, working 60+ hours a week for some accounting firm. And I don’t blame him. That sounds like some kind of “Office Space” styled existential hell, if I’m being perfectly honest. What Doug found inside this sushi restaurant was a sleeping giant; a tangible and creative side, and with just rice, fish, veggies, and blades, the giant awoke.

His mentor Keizo-San saw potential in Doug and took him under his wing teaching him the ins and outs the craft. From the tricky sushi rice to the precision knife cuts, Keizo-San forged true craftsmanship into the once accounting student for years to come. Over the years however, Doug decided to venture elsewhere to work other jobs, and even managed to get a little bit of travel under his belt, but somehow managed to find himself coming back to where he started; coming back home. And for good reason. The friendships, the craftsmanship, the position, and the title made it all worth it.

Doug-San has been at Sushi Zanmai for twelve years now, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. Sure he’s flirting with the idea of branching out elsewhere, learning new cuisines, mastering new techniques, but for the time being Doug-San is happy as a clam further mastering his knife skills, perfecting his rice, and being the captain of this ship. And that’s beautiful. Time is all we have, and the journey is only half the fun. Why rush? Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000times.” I am more than certain that this applies here with Doug-San. Head on down to Sushi Zanmai and tell him Yellow Scene sent ya! Kanpai!

 

Tsehay Hailu — Ras Kassas

In Ethiopia EVERY GENERATION has experienced a period of starvation, and sadly many didn’t make it out alive. This is part of why food is not something taken for granted, nor something to be taken lightly.

“The leadership of Kassa Hailu was legendary; he refused to do as leaders always do and gave very little to himself. The lion’s share went to the pride, Atse Tewodros’s royalty was found in this spirit of giving.” If ever there was a better way to describe the energy, spirit, and movement that flows through Ras Kassa’s. The colors spanned across the walls, the rich fragrance that filled the room, and the gentle smile that greeted me as I stepped in the door. Kindness, compassion, tender hearts, and a feast with familiar; this is the song and dance of Ras Kassa’s.

The sweetest soul exists, my friends. Her name is Tsehay Hailu and I found her sitting in the corner of Ras Kassa’s awaiting us for the interview. A soft handshake and a sunny disposition, Tsehay sat me down and we shared some light small talk about ourselves. “Welcome to Ethiopia” she said with a smile after I told her how little I knew about the cuisine. Then we got down to business…

Tsehay moved here later in her teenage years from Addis Ababa, and it was quite a learning experience just in the first year. Being asked silly but curious questions from classmates about having lions and tigers in her back yard only to respond with a quizzical expression. Americans weren’t taught much about her home country, let alone Africa in general. Everybody here just assumed it was a jungle like it was on Tarzan. They didn’t know that she watched Scooby-Doo and Bonanza like they did. But on the flipside; young Tsehay was also unaware of our history of slavery, racism, and genocide against the natives. Like her classmates, she was never given the education on such things, she just thought it was “Cowboys and Indians”. I don’t know why that part spoke in such higher volumes to me, but it did.

Tsehay had much to say about food and its significance to her culture. The cuisine is served on a flat bread called an Injera (made from teff flour) where the family gathers around to eat. The adults eat with the adults, children with children. Most commonly eaten with fingers, it’s not uncommon to feed each other; it’s a sign of love, friendship, and hospitality. The meals are also usually shared in close proximity of one another and the wife always cooks. In a nutshell; we are here to share a meal together as family and friends, now let me feed you. Open wide! How beautiful is that?

To add to that, food holds a much heavier weight to the culture than it does for us here in the states. Having endured 30 different famines since the 9th century, Ethiopia is no stranger to hunger. To put it in perspective, Ethiopia has endured (on average) 2.7 famines per century. Every generation; I repeat, EVERY GENERATION has experienced a period of starvation, and sadly many didn’t make it out alive. This is part of why food is not something taken for granted, nor something to be taken lightly. This is why food brings the table closer. Cook from the heart and respect the plate. If this were to be our last meal, let it be a great one, right? There’s a poetry to every feast.      

Tsehay started off cooking, as she put it, as “a stroke of luck”. Not that she needed any Luck, hard work, skill; whatever you would like to call it, it clearly worked out successfully. She opened Ras Kassa’s blindly, but with due diligence. Completely unknowing of the demographics or cultural awareness of the Lafayette area, it was hard to really say whether or not an Ethiopian restaurant would thrive. Much to our chagrin, Ras Kassa’s didn’t need much to be successful. The atmosphere and food spoke for itself.

We shared some words after the interview, chased with lighthearted laughs and smiles. She even extended an ever so gentle hand in friendship with an offer to come back and eat a meal with her (which I intend to do). And that is what we can gain from restaurants like Ras Kassa’s. Compassion, friendship, smiles, laughter, and of course delicious food. The interview itself was a learning experience for me. I went home and did some research on both king, nation, and cuisine and came out with an entirely new perspective. The table is where we gather, the characters are that surround are the reason why we gather, and the food is what brings us together. I’ll see you soon, Tsehay. Letenachin!

 

Chef Carlos Ruiz — Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts

“The jaguar is dead; now the forest is mine.”
-Brazilian proverb

The man, the myth, the legend; Chef Carlos Ruiz. I don’t even know where to begin with this man’s story, but I’ll tell you one thing, if ever you ask him how he’s doing he’ll always respond with “just living the dream.” This is not just some platitude to him, but rather a mantra. Chef Carlos lived quite the life and isn’t anywhere near close to taking a breather. This is Chef Carlos Ruiz, and this is his soul. Follow along closely, because we’re about to bounce around quite a bit. Where’s my IPA?

Carlos Ruiz was born In Lima, Peru. At the tender age of 14 days old, he moved to Brazil until he was 6, then moved back to Peru until he was 8. Then he moved to Canada until he was 12, and from there lived off and on between Florida and Cuba while he attended a military boarding school. At 14 he moved back to Peru, graduated high school at 16, started college as an economics major (still in Peru), transferred to Honduras, then transferred to Venezuela. Hold on, I need to take a breath. *Breath*… “Ok ok ok, catch your breath Kyle, but answer me this; why did he move around so much?” I’m glad you asked! His mother was a Peruvian Ambassador. Neat, huh?

Chef Carlos was studying economics in college but found very little joy in the field (can you blame him?). Then one day he came to the realization that his entire life has been based around a table of food and family. From fancy dinners with diplomats to fun parties with friends and family, his heart was for a plate, not for economics. “Food should bring family and friends to the table, and to allow strangers to become friends.” So, he sidestepped a bit to the left and took off to learn culinary art at Johnson & Wales in Miami.

While in school, he landed a position at the Ocean Grand in Palm Beach. The hotel was 57 miles from his home, but three destroyed cars later the hungry chef found himself promoted to Chef de Cuisine in Austin at 25 years old. In the years to follow (as a speedrun), he became executive chef at the Marriott International in Costa Rica, executive chef at the Sofitel Hotel in Miami, executive chef at the Stanley Hotel, executive chef at the Corner Office in the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver, executive chef/food and beverage director at the DIA Marriott Hotel… and then he got tired. It happens.

Chef Carlos had a plethora of opportunity, and the money was pretty sweet, but at what cost? The corporate lifestyle was beginning to weigh down on him heavily. Up until now he has never worked and lived in the same city simultaneously. An instructor position at Escoffier came to surface and Chef Carlos decided that this would be a good way to take a short hiatus from the ever-moving corporate kitchen. However, two years into it, his funds were looking low and he had to make a decision between going back to the corporate mechanism or… try something else. And thus, Chiporro Sauces was born!

The company started off humble and small from Chef Carlos’s kitchen. The sauces were handed out as samples to friends, family, neighbors, etc. while Chef Carlos collected the necessary data on what works and what doesn’t until he perfected the flavor. He scored a slot at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market, and from there, Chiporro Sauces took off like a rocket. Whole Foods swooped them up alongside Lucky’s, Natural Grocers, and a few restaurants. Handcrafted happiness, am I right?

Chiporro Sauces is run and operated by Chef Carlos and his family. Chiporro Sauces is his third child, so to speak. “The sauce on any dish is what makes or breaks the dish,” he will tell you. There’s a poetry to it all indeed. Chiporro is more than just sauce for extra income, the sauce is an extension of himself. The sauce is what makes him. You can taste the dedication when you drown a burrito in any of his sauces. The heat, the flavor, the quality, the little nuances that enhance everything they touch; all reflections of Chef Carlos.

So what’s next? Take over the world one bottle of sauce at a time? We can only hope. He plans to go national, and one day go international. He’ll do it too, just watch. Like he says, “have no fear, live your own dream, and the best time to do something is now.” I implore you to seek out his sauces and put them on everything. You’re denying yourself a higher, saucier truth by not doing so. And as for you Chef Carlos, Godspeed. To Chiporro! Salud!

 

Chef Ting — Ting’s Place

Chef Ting is enjoying every moment he spends in his kitchen; the world he painted for himself with food.

On a quiet corner in Lafayette there lies a Chinese restaurant called Ting’s Place. Completely unassuming at first glance, but what’s inside is a tale of travel, tradition, amazing food, and togetherness. For 30 years, Ting’s Place has stood the test of time with the community, and for good reason; their employees and customers are treated like family. We’ll go a little bit deeper with all that in just a bit, but first let’s get to know Chef Ting. And away we go…

Chef Ting was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. His family worked with imports and exports through customs, which was probably where he would have ended up had he not bought a one-way ticket to America. The year was 1982 and Chef Ting started working for his family’s restaurant. It was here he found a love for the process of making a dish. It was also here in this restaurant his charming wife Shan Shan started working after graduating from CU Denver as a Computer Information Systems major. After realizing that computers weren’t her bag, she decided to never touch a computer again and stay happy with the simplicities and chaos of a restaurant. Oh these roads, how they twist and turn…

Sappy love stories and whatnot aside, Chef Ting was not super thrilled with the food he was making at the restaurant. Laughing, he said “the people deserved better!” So, he started planning for something of his own design. April of 1987 was a milestone for Chef Ting. He opened Ting’s Place right across the way from their current location, and it stood for roughly 21 years. Then they shut down for two years, found a new location within arm’s reach, renovated the new building, and it has stood proudly for seven years and counting. You gotta hand it to Ting’s Place, that’s quite impressive. Many restaurants don’t live to see five years, yet Ting’s Place manages to watch actual generations of regulars returning for more… *Tips my hat in Chef Ting’s direction*

For Chef Ting, food is the bridge for community. It is a language we all speak, and we speak it ever so fluently together at this table. It’s a means to express and communicate thoughts, feelings, and ideas with a side of veggies and a drink. It shows on the plates he serves. What I find most beautiful about his philosophy is the heavy emphasis on togetherness. Telling me about watching regulars grow up from being kids to being parents of their own. There’s something beautiful to be said about having that kind of clientele. But you see, there’s the secret ingredient; happiness through togetherness. Whether it be the employees or the hungry customers, we gather here today for one of two reasons; to either serve happiness, or to receive happiness. And I can’t stress the happiness part enough either. The shrimp in garlic sauce with the fried rice was exactly what a messy Monday called for.                 

Chef Ting is enjoying every moment he spends in his kitchen; the world he painted for himself with food. He enjoys watching his regulars grow into older age. He has a palpable connection with the community he serves who welcomed him and his restaurant with open arms 30 some years ago. And most importantly, he enjoys spending every minute of it next to his wife and his workers. The heart beats steady and the wick burns long here at Ting’s Place. Chef Ting made sure of that. Ganbei, Chef.    

 

Chef Jutta Dellert — Cracovia

“I got a really big mouth from it. I used to be really shy, but I learned that I either have to speak their language or they’re going to run all over me. So now I can be with the best of them and they’re not going to scare me or intimidate me.”

“Holy pierogies, Batman” I exclaimed as a steamy plate of those tasty treats greet me at the bar with a side of pickle soup. Yes, you heard that correctly; pickle soup. I know, I was a bit skeptical at first as well, but my skepticism soon melted away once that creamy goodness touched my tongue. But enough about my soup and perogies, let’s talk about a lady named Jutta and how she managed to get the Polish restaurant Cracovia to win “Best German Restaurant” in Denver (I’m not kidding, we all shared a giggle). Step on inside, will you…

Her Name is Jutta Dellert and she is the hilarious and warmhearted chef at Cracovia. A culinary student born and raised about 20 minutes outside of Hanover, Germany, Chef Jutta got her start in food as a three-year apprentice at Badeilsen. Clearly, things went well for the young chef. She was hired on as the sous chef at a famous restaurant called Sweet Mother at nineteen years old. The future was so bright, she had to wear shades. During this time, she met an Air Force boy (HOO-AH), got married, had her first born, and was making a pretty darn good living. Then came the trek to the states.

They started off in Nebraska at the Offutt Air Force Base where she took a break from working to focus on family. Then they set sail for Colorado Springs and she decided to jump back into the kitchen. However, she soon learned that the culinary world is treated far differently in the states than how it’s treated in Europe. From making roughly 50 dollars an hour (I’m sure there’s some foreign exchange rate to take into account, but you get the picture) to making dollars an hour in the springs. As Chef Jutta said, “…and then I moved to the states and the chef at the Red Line was like ’I’m going to hire you, and I’m going to pay you $6.50 an hour, but don’t tell anybody’ like he was doing me a favor ha ha! Are you kidding me? Of course I’m not going to tell anybody because THAT’S embarrassing!”

To add to that, she also learned that the kitchens here are a male dominated world. Being turned down jobs, being made to do lesser work like cleaning, having the “if you want to get paid like a man, you got to work like a man” mentality shoved in her face, etc. But this didn’t phase her in any way. She used these experiences like a grindstone to sharpen both her teeth and her skills. “I got a really big mouth from it. I used to be really shy, but I learned that I either have to speak their language or they’re going to run all over me. So now I can be with the best of them and they’re not going to scare me or intimidate me.” Chef Jutta is warm and hilarious by nature, but beware. She’ll breathe fire if necessary.

Chef Jutta then found her bliss at the Alpine Chalet. Better pay, better treatment, better ingredients, everything made from scratch; she was finally home! And she would call this place home for 10 years. But then the road took a sharp turn and she found herself working the front of house for a little while in Denver (about 12 years). But hospitality and being loveable are second nature to Chef Jutta. She saw being front of house as a fun learning experience that’s easier on the body. Until one day…

“I saw an add from Cracovia on Craigslist, and they were looking for a chef and I was like ‘I know they’re European and they’re going to cook from scratch.’ So, I applied, and I’ve been here ever since.” Well thank god for that, eh? Since Chef Jutta stepped foot into Cracovia, they have come to find a mound of success and recognition; one being the Westword’s “Best German Restaurant” in 2018. We shared a good laugh about that with the owner’s daughter. But you see, this is part of how and why Chef Jutta is the way she is with food. She wants to make a sauce that takes four hours to make, she wants to spend a few days making cheese from scratch, and most importantly she wants bellies to be full and smiles of satisfaction to span the room. To Chef Jutta, food is a vehicle for happiness. 

Chef Jutta’s plans for the future are simple; perfect the menu. It makes me ever so curious to see how she’ll execute that, given that the food is already divine. Anybody who knows me knows that I straight hate pickles, yet Chef Jutta somehow managed to change my mind in some little way with her pickle soup. And don’t get me started on the pierogies. This, my friends, is the heartbeat of Cracovia. Fresh ingredients, delicious food, made from scratch, plenty of it, and service with a friendly chuckle. Chef Jutta is such a loveable character and I highly suggest you go in, order the pickle soup, and tell her Kyle sent ya. Prost!   

 

Mujibur Ali — Taj Mahal 3

H’oh boy, where do I even begin here? The food I mean, not the article. Chef Ali told me to sit back and relax while he made me dinner, so I did just that. I sat back, drank some water, checked my Instagram, watched a cat video (or 6, let’s be honest), and *BAM*…a feast fit for a broke and hungry college student. Steaming lamb curry, SIZZLING and succulent shrimp tandoori, a big ol’ bowl of fluffy rice, and that life changing garlic naan I can’t stop thinking about even as I write this paper a few hours later. This is how I was greeted here at Taj Mahal 3 *a single tear rolls down my cheek*.

Enough about the food and the garlic naan that left the same spiritual imprint as All My Loving by The Beatles did the first time I heard it, let’s talk about Mujibur Ali.

Chef Ali was born and raised in colorful Bangladesh. Basic history has taught many of us the cultural significance that region of the world had on global trade, through long and winding roads of silk, incense, and spice. Cooks in our part of the world carry a knife kit, cooks in that part of the world carry a spice kit. So naturally, a tradition of color and spice surges through the man’s veins. But it didn’t quite start off that way.

He studied economics at a university in Bangladesh and then headed to the states where he started off his journey in Manhattan. The mild jaunt through NYC, however, somehow carried him to Troy, Michigan, in 1987, and that was where his love for food finally came out to play. He and a partner opened their first restaurant and Chef Ali hit the ground running to perfect the spice laden cuisine over the span of several years. But like the weather, all things change, and Chef Ali set his eyes to the Centennial State in pursuit of something new (and to get out of the stinging Michigan winters, I’m sure).

In 1998, Chef Ali found a small corner space of a strip mall in Louisville that was up for grabs and he knew immediately what should be done. As a lifelong resident, let me be the first to tell you that Louisville in the 90’s wasn’t a hub for diverse cuisine and cultural experience. Granted, I was only ten years old at that time so my memory may be a bit fuzzy, but I can tell you with a straight face that it wasn’t exactly the town you’d find a hoppin’ traditional Indian restaurant. But where some business owners may see this as a bad move, Chef Ali embraced this as an advantage.

The road was a little long and sometimes tumultuous in the beginning, given that it was an authentic family owned Indian restaurant buried in the far corner of an otherwise empty strip mall in Louisville, but the road smoothed out for Taj Mahal 3 in just a couple of years. And for good reason. Building a relationship with the community that surrounds you is key. During the interview, a customer walked in and greeted Chef Ali on a first name basis. This is why the restaurant has come to see such success. Chef Ali mentioned that most of his business comes from regulars, and he knows them all to some degree. Heck, even neighboring schools come to Taj Mahal 3 to eat Indian food and learn about the country and culture! This is what community means, people. Take notes.

But what’s next for Chef Ali? Well, who knows? Even he is unsure of what comes next. The road has been a blessed one, but eventually the road must end. Chef Ali isn’t thinking about closing his doors for good anytime soon (don’t panic!), but he’s not certain what will become of his business in his older years, and that’s ok. He’s done enough for himself and his community to worry about what comes next. Before I left, Chef Ali sent me off with a pleasant farewell gift of chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, rice, and naan that he stepped off for fifteen minutes to make for me himself; and that my friends, is Chef Ali in a nutshell.

   

 

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