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The Dish on Boulder’s Sharpest Chefs

Published on: October 8th, 2020

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The terrific talents and fantastic flavors of Boulder have risen to national prominence over the last decade and for good reason. The food here rocks. I mean, it is damn good. If you don’t know that by now, you better get your head – or stomach – in the game. Some Seattleite might know more about your city than you do! (That’s me, I’m the Seattleite who got to know Boulder by nibbling my way across town.) Or maybe you just want to get better acquainted with your favorite Boulder chefs in this expanded Off Menu. No matter your reason, you’re here with me now. Strap in. It’s a fun ride.

 

 

 

Manal Jarrar – Arabesque

 

Manal greets me with a bright smile and a tall glass of cool, homemade spiced tea. The recipe took her years to perfect, a fact that becomes apparent with my first sip. Its carefully combined alluringly sweet baseline and sharp, fresh spices create a drink of an entirely different species from the diluted syrupy concentrate so familiar to the pallet of the pitifully unaware Starbucks-goer. Get a taste of Manal’s spiced tea, and you find the flavor that Starbucks has tried so hard (and failed) to emulate all these years. You’ll find the same is true for her delectable lemonade—there’s just something about it you’ve never known before, and its taste is one for the gods.

 

If you ask her how she does it though, she won’t quite tell. She’ll say that one day after months of experimenting, she woke up knowing exactly how to craft this specialty drink with elegance and grace that you can taste. It’s a gift. She knows how to manage and complement flavors just as she knows how to manage and complement components of a ballet.

 

A former dancer and instructor herself, she brings the same grace and coordination she needs on stage to the kitchen. “You have to be larger than life to see the connection between dancing and food,” she says, but hearing her speak, you get what she’s talking about. She speaks with the same richness and passion that you would expect to sense in a beautifully executed ballet or an expertly crafted dish. I certainly tasted it in her potatoes (which were seriously, honestly, hand-over-heart incredible). She says her secret here is taking time and allowing her food to sit in its own flavors. Like in life, she explains, “let it be.” Don’t force the flavors together, nor make them fight with each other. Let them settle and grow a shared integrity. It more than pays off.

 

Manal longs for the days to come, when the COVID pandemic is behind us all. She misses the cacophony of forks on plates and laughter rising above the chattering buzz. She misses the people who usually fill her charming little establishment. One of the loveliest things about Arabesque, she eloquently explains, is the feeling we have when we eat together—feeling human together, shoulder to shoulder. Despite her aching heart, she opens Arabesque and cooks take-away and patio orders for those who do still come to enjoy her food and company—not because she’s making much of a profit from it these days, but because she loves it. I am deeply grateful for that because she’s made a loyal customer of me, and I plan to return soon, not just for her mouth-watering food and drink, but for her colorful personality, and the charm she brings to 17th and Pine. 

 

 

 

Eric Skokan – Black Cat

 

It all started at nine thousand feet, at the Gold Lake Mountain Resort in the year 1998. Eric found in the resort a head chef position, amid the beauty of the Rockies, and Jill, having recently moved to Colorado and risen from horse wrangler to general manager at the resort, found (and hird) Eric. 

 

The Rockies, and moreso Jill, kept Eric in fond devotion to the mountain resort for nearly ten years. He and Jill, who had found not just each other, but love there as well, haven’t left one another’s side since. 

 

Eric jokes that he and Jill are essentially the same person: two heads, four arms, four legs, and facing one direction, with a vision and passion to serve food that supports a healthy lifestyle. Before the pair opened the now famed Black Cat Bistro in 2006, they ran a little ice cream shop together.

 

A trip to the French Pyrenees changed the game for the couple where they witnessed the transformation of garden veggies to a delicious, simple dinner. The owner walked from their table to her garden, plucked vegetables from the vine, and plopped them into her apron before jogging into the kitchen to create a “magical” meal. So became the inspiration for Black Cat. 

 

“I put my head down and got to work,” Eric tells me, “and when I lifted my head years later, I had hundreds of acres of land for cultivation.” He and Jill usually use their farm to supply fresh ingredients to Black Cat Bistro as well as offer skills and resources to up-and-coming chefs and new farmers alike, but since the coronavirus hit, the farm has taken on new roles. The family packs its produce into Mabel, their trusty food truck delivering fresh foods to locals looking to avoid grocery stores. They’ve also transformed the farm into a home for custom-made greenhouses, where customers can come to enjoy memorable and safe dining with breathtaking sunsets, fresh dinners delivered to the foot of their table eight feet away, and come October, wood-burning stoves and sheepskin blankets. After fourteen years of doing what he loves at the bistro, seeing familiar looks of wonder on his customers’ faces, and offering care to his community as best he can, his and Jill’s dream is now manifest.

 

This marvelous milestone for Black Cat comes at a time of struggle and pain for Eric, Jill, and their boys, however, as the family mourns and grapples with the recent loss of their son, Kelsey. Eric is appreciative of his staff, who have taken the burden of the farm and Black Cat upon their shoulders and carried it through the summer. Eric also looks ahead to the future—a future of pumpkins, winter squashes, and eating his body weight in spring peas. There is still much to come for the Skokans and the Black Cat community, and while the pain of loss never gets easier, at least we learn to manage it. I and Yellow Scene alike offer our warmest wishes of healing to Eric, Jill, and their sons.

 

 

 

Shekhar Pokhrel – Busaba

 

Shekhar’s story is the reason why our role models tell us to chase our dreams: sometimes, we catch them. As a CU graduate in accounting and entrepreneurship and a software developer, Shekhar adored Thai food and dreamt of becoming a chef. In his travels around The States, he would introduce himself to the chefs at his favorite Thai eateries and to try to learn something from them. One of those eateries—his favorite of them—was Busaba. Before buying Busaba about a year ago, Shekhar was a loyal customer, eating there all the time. Shekhar made his culinary start as a dishwasher in a little Thai place at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and now after a year of training at Busaba, the former owners have retired, and he is thrilled to deliver the simple yet delectable flavors of Thai food from kitchen to plate himself. 

 

Growing up under the direction of his culinarily masterful mom in a family farm in Nepal, Shekhar has valued and respected food since he was young. He respects where the food comes from and the impacts of it, and he brings those same values to Busaba. When Shekhar was an admiring customer of Busaba, he could taste the freshness and vibrant flavors. Now, on the other side of the counter, Shekhar says the source of all that culinary goodness is obvious: the freshest ingredients that can be mustered. Busaba brings uncompromising quality and authenticity to its Thai food, which Shekhar explains, you can really taste in the dishes it serves. It’s why customers keep pouring in their love and support, even through this pandemic: Busaba nourishes them with marvelous quality dishes, and they don’t want to see that go.

 

When you go to Busaba, you might consider the garlic pepper. Shekhar says he loves all of the made-from-scratch dishes at Busaba, but that’s his favorite right now. He also makes notable mention of the house-made coconut ice cream, a tasty dessert of which he admits, chuckling, he never fails to get his fill. Or, try something new. Shekhar encourages us to explore different flavors of the Thai world—there’s a lot more out there beyond the Pad Thai, people. Fortunately, Busaba offers a lot of vegan and vegetarian options too, so there’s no excuse to pass up a new culinary adventure, especially one that tastes so good.

 

 

 

Alec Schular – Tangerine

 

Last week’s wild weather hit Alec’s culinary baby, Tangerine, hard. During our interview, Alec waves goodbye to one of his team members and sends his thanks. “It was fun,” the guy says. There had been no electricity that morning, and all of the tickets had to be hand-written, but the employees didn’t seem to mind the new challenges—they were happy and ready to pull together to serve people great food.

 

You can tell what kind of atmosphere Alec creates in this place. He wants Tangerine to be a positive experience for all people. Great service and an upbeat, friendly atmosphere isn’t just important for the customers—he wants his employees to be happy too. And when you walk into Tangerine, you’ll not only notice the socially inviting atmosphere he’s created, but the loveliness of the space as well. Hovering orange globes warm the walls and the conversation in Tangerine’s primary room, and Louise Nevelson-inspired art abounds in the converted joint space of Alec’s past sparkling culinary sensation, Arugula.

 

Alec has decades of culinary instruction and practice which have colored his food with sophistication and artistic flair. Ask him why he became a chef though, and he’ll give you a refreshingly contrasting and deeply relatable answer: “I love to eat.” Mmmm yes.

 

He’s an Italian, French, and Spanish food drooler at heart, and you can taste those influences in what he makes. But he opened Tangerine as a healthy American food-focused eatery with a Mediterian twist to complement his much-loved Arugula restaurant. He wanted to offer people an American breakfast, brunch, and lunch spot with whole, quality nutrition crafted with creativity. Nine years later, Tangerine continues to do just that (and now it serves cafe-quality coffee for you caffeine-jittery readers out there too.) Soon, the eatery will expand its space under heated canopies in the hope of safely returning a sense of community to its dining. Come October, keep an eye out for Tangerine’s warm atmosphere as it’s transported into the fresh outdoors, and when you visit, try one of the Benedicts. They’re the chef’s favorite.

 

 

 

Dakota Soifer – Cafe Aion

 

You wouldn’t know that Dakota won Cutthroat Kitchen back in 2014 by talking to him, and when you’re through with the conversation, you understand why: fast entertainment isn’t his speed. Rather, he speaks fondly of Meadow Lark Farm Dinners, where he cooked five-course meals from a kitchen bus on farms throughout Boulder. He affectionately recalls his first experiences watching chefs at Rumba (now Centra) “throw stuff in a pan,” in the “ripping heat.” He describes epic dumpling-filled dinner parties with his former-Eastern-philosophy-and-religion-professor mother, who would invite visiting professors from China and India over to his house every night. From talking to Datoka, you get the sense that he’s the sort of person who soaks in his experiences and finds richness in being a part of a larger moment. 

 

Dakota’s passions also very much seem to rest in the bricks of Cafe Aion and the texture of the space there. He describes how he was drawn to the place for the feeling it exudes—it’s not sterile or slick, and it exists in a different world from that which embraces Banana Republic culture. Chasing after a taste of Europe, he bought this historied space for Cafe Aion ten-and-a-half years ago. It’s not as polished as other places, and he revels in that. He finds quality and authenticity in its way of existence and appreciates the funky vibe of The Hill. Sometimes, a visiting professor from China or a Nobel Laureate will sit down to enjoy a paella and a bottle of wine at lunch, and the space fills with the same air of academia that he grew up loving. 

 

Since the pandemic hit, Dakota has dialed in on what he calls “anti-cheesecake mentality,” working to make the cafe a little more true to its original vision. Cafe Aion has fewer options now. While it’s held onto its identity, serving plenty of paellas from scratch and offering spirits to pair, Cafe Aion has also grown through a period of welcome change as Dakota works to keep it alive and well during our era of coronavirus concerns.

 

 

 

Hugo Meyer – Piripi

 

Hugo has been to all of these places, mingled with local pallets and fisherman, and opened many a restaurant around the globe. A native Argentinian and German citizen, he calls himself a citizen of the world, and in each place he’s been to, he hopes to bring people together. In fact, that hope is at the heart of the name, “Piripi.” Spanish sailors would play dominos at his bar as they good-naturedly threw the word around. It means tipsy, but not just from a drink too many—from laughter and good times too. That’s what Hugo has created in Piripi: “good vibes only.” He’s really pleased with the restaurant and how it’s come together, but not many people know about it just yet. 

 

It was Hugo’s intention to see Piripi open to the people of Erie back in March; he built the building, decorated it, formed the menu, and just when it seemed the universe was ready for Piripi at-large, the coronavirus cast its shadow and closed down cooks and chefs across Colorado. 

 

Pirpi just had its unofficial soft opening last week, and this week, we’ll see its grand opening. Hugo’s Piripi launches with a promise of tasty food and an inviting atmosphere—a good night out. Be one of the first to see it and get a taste of Hugo in action on Briggs Street in Erie.

 

 

 

 

Rueben Verplank – Mike O’Shay’s

 

If you’re looking for a fun gastropub around Main Street in Longmont, look no further than the city’s longest-running restaurant, Mike O’Shay’s. When Rueben bought this place almost four years ago now, he knew right away that he loved it. “It’s a great business,” he says. Ranging from the classic fish ‘n’ chips to Rueben’s favorite guilty-pleasure dish, the massive schnitzel, Mike O’Shay’s has quality pub food and fun drinks that make for a great night out with friends or family. As with so many of us, that’s really what Mike misses most right now. He still loves the act of creating a visually appealing dish with complex flavors and tastes, and he loves finding tasty drink pairings to accompany, but it’s just not the same experience when you’re eating and drinking at home. “Restaurants are part of the fabric that hold people together as a community,” he says. 

 

While Rueben clearly has a great love for the industry and how it used to operate, he’s making the best of these odd times. There’s outdoor patio space on Main Street for a little while longer while the weather permits, and coming up next month, Rueben plans to find some way to celebrate the 40th year of Mike O’Shay’s classic pub ambience on Main Street. He’ll celebrate and raise a glass of German Hefeweissen to the many years of great food, great service, and fun for years to come. 

 

 

 

 

Lenny Martinelli – Dushanbe

 

The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse couldn’t have been in better hands when it fell into Lenny’s. A student of architecture, Lenny launched his culinary journey as nothing more than a means to an end, that end being designing and building beautiful spaces. But one day, a couple of years into owning his first cafe, he caught a glimpse of the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse in Tajikistan—it was a vignette on a flyer asking for bidders who would receive its parts from a Tajik sister city, rebuild it here in Boulder, and make it into a symbol of global fraternity. He called the project committee in charge to no avail, but as fate would have it, a year later, he received a letter in the mail telling him that the project was his. 

 

Now, twenty-some years after taking part in the very plastering and painting of the teahouse, Lenny has curated a menu and atmosphere that people from across the world journey to experience. He’s designed and built all of his restaurants, in fact. (You can take the man out of the profession, but you can’t take the profession out of the man.) Like in his other restaurants, and particularly in Leaf, Lenny stays true to his passion for vegetarianism. The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is largely vegetarian and has a number of vegan options to boot. He sources it all from his very own farm and works to ensure that he doesn’t waste a single green tomato (of which, there are in fact, very many this season). Of course, that means that when you visit the teahouse, you can expect to find green tomato chutney featured on the menu. Give it a try, and when you’re there, ask Lenny for a cup of tea. At the Dushanbe Teahouse, there’s a type of tea for every time of day.

 

 

 

Brad Heap – SALT The Bistro

 

Bradford describes his relationship with food and cooking as a lifelong affair. It was a rocky start: he would sit for hours in protest against his plate of Kuner’s lima beans and still recalls in quiet terror the clearly scarring cooking of his mother. But at six, he learned how to turn the bitterness of semi-sweet chocolate into jaw-dropplingly good fudge. And when he started cooking for himself, he fell in love with learning how to make really good food—like his buttery velveeta grilled cheese with tomato soup.

 

These days though, Brad is more interested in clean eating and nutrient-dense foods. Of course, some things just don’t change: you still won’t find a lima bean within the walls of SALT The Bistro, and he’s still driven by his young amazement for the alchemy of science and its intersection with the pleasure of eating. But now, he also commits to whole, organic, and sustainably sourced foods. Calling the standard American diet (and his old favorite foods) “a curse and a plague,” he hopes to encourage safer, less processed food choices for all people. Simplicity, seasonality, humanity. That’s Brad’s culinary mantra.

 

You can taste those values in his presently favorite dish, the gnocchi bolognese. He also extols the New Zealand-raised grass-fed wagyu. Brad emphasizes that no matter your culinary proclivity, SALT has something healthy and tasty for you. And for plant-based eaters, he’s currently expanding his menu. (Watch out for mouth-watering no-cheese nachos to come.) Brad also plans to make available quarantine-friendly take-out dishes that you can finish cooking in your oven at home. The concept brings the warmth and smell of SALT into the home, and that aspect of take-out is what really makes to-go meals worth it.

 

 

 

Samuel McCandless – Arcana

 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak first began effecting closures within the food industry, Samuel has been working hard to mix things up and keep the offerings at Arcana fresh. Back in March, about a year-and-a-half into his new position as head chef, Samuel did a lot of cooking for folks in need, offering high quality, high integrity foods on a sliding scale. Then, Arcana started offering more to-go options. In the midst of constantly-changing and somewhat chaotic conditions, Samuel decided that instead of simply succumbing to change, Arcana would wholly embrace it. These days, Arcana’s menu changes every month. This month is Mexican Cantina-themed, and next month, food will take on a casual Japanese flavor. Then comes Rome. Arcana offers a taste of the world at a time when we thought travel restrictions prevented it. 

 

Ask him to a list a few of his favorite foods on the menu, and Samuel will describe his halting hamachi ceviche with lamb shank or a flavorful fire-roasted zucchini dish with yellow molé and lavender honey—combinations that peak your curiosity and leave you telling your partner or housemate “We’re going to Arcana” (spoken from a place of experience).  

 

Ask him what inspires these diamond dishes, and you’ll come to learn about his daughter. She’s there with him during the interview. Samuel likes to tie personal experience into what he does. He explains that of course, he expects professionalism, focus, and cleanliness from his quality curated team, but he also encourages them to tie joys of their personal lives into the food. He says that’s what creates the environment that Arcana’s customers so delight in.

 

Samuel has been cooking for twenty-three years now. He’s grown to value clean eating and the clean feeling it gives the body. He’s also moved away from putting twenty-some things on a plate, or what he calls, “cooking with your ego.” At Arcana, Samuel offers focused dishes made simply and says you really do get more out of less. It’s an equally if not more challenging task that he now faithfully takes on. “I cook what makes people happy,” Samuel says. And to that, I say, “I want to be happy! Henry, we’re going to Arcana.”

 

 

 

Matthew Jansen – Mateo

 

Born in Jamaica and raised in a family restaurant in Boulder, Matthew has always worked hard at what he does; he got good grades in school, developed an impressive football game in his later years, and as an adult, takes part in a host of fundraisers in addition to spending time with his kids. He stays busy, but no matter what else he’s doing, he’s also always cooking. Cooking has always been a central part of Matthew’s life. It’s his passion, and it’s where he’s put nineteen years of hard work. 

 

Those are the minor details that take digging to find. When you meet Matthew, you don’t hear much about them. Rather, the first thing you learn is what a humble guy he is. He has a great depth in knowledge about Provencal foods and food chains—that is, the food culture in Italian-influenced southeastern France—and his restaurant serves well-traveled and learned clientele. If you ask him what sets Mateo apart from other eateries though, he’ll list influences from chefs and restaurants all around Boulder in response. 

 

Matthew clearly values the togetherness of the culinary community here in Boulder, and he is grateful that he has such a loyal customer base that appreciates Mateo alongside other delicious eateries around Boulder. He also credits local farms near his newest culinary endeavor, Raglin Market, and businesses in the Boulder wine world. This guy just doesn’t quit with the neighborly complements. 

 

Speaking of wine, it’s clearly a passion of Matthew’s too. It is afterall, the backbone of Mateo, particularly sparkling wine—Matthew’s life love. Matthew feels that the perfect wine-food pairing can transport you to another place, somewhere among the climbing vines and tall stone houses of Europe. Eating at Mateo is about the full dining experience, Matthew explains. That can be challenging during the pandemic, and Mateo looks, arm-in-arm with the rest of us and his culinary comrades, to the future, awaiting warmer times.

 

 

Ryan Taylor – Hickory & Ash

 

When Ryan cooks, he cooks emotional experiences. That was his aim in launching Hickory & Ash a decade ago with his Denver-famous father, Chef Kevin Taylor. The two combined senior practice in fine dining with a younger vision to recreate comfort food and cooked up a steakhouse with a twist—one that gets away from bells and whistles and focuses on providing an approachable, accommodating, and phenomenal experience. They top their twice-baked mac’n’cheese with bacon and cheddar scallions and reinvent the McRib into the fuller and more lively mc2.  While Kevin focuses on making the plates perfect, Ryan ensures that the pair keep the dishes fun.

 

This was always in the cards for Ryan. His dad encouraged him to get out of the business and avoid its all-consuming demands, so naturally, Ryan did the opposite and fell in love with it all. He’s an art-focused guy and loves food for that reason: “This is the only art form that requires all five senses,” he says, but he also carries with him a deep respect for food and social folds within it. Having cooking instruction from Europe, he developed an appreciation for “eating to dine, and not just eating to eat.” He says that as diners, it’s imperative that we adopt the idea that food is important to us. Farm-to-table eating should be a given, and sustainability and zero food waste policies should be central.

 

There’s a lot on Ryan’s plate these days, and even more on his horizon. After the Covid scare passes, he hopes to reopen Masa, the traditional Mexican food joint that was open just fifteen months before the pandemic shut it down. Ryan has always loved Mexican culinary tradition, its wide range and diversity, and its incredible propensity to transform simple ingredients into delicious dishes. But after all of his bustling, of creating sophisticated food, what Ryan really loves when is sitting down to a hearty microwaved White Castle burger. He certainly takes the old saying to heart: Don’t bring work home with you. While this rule of thumb holds sway for Ryan, he also lives by another axiom: anyone can feel at home where he works—at Hickory & Ash.

 

 

 

Steve Rezikowski – Oak At 14th

 

Steve’s motto is effort: “just work harder than everyone else.” That’s how he landed his first major opportunity at NYC’s “It job”, Circ 2000, while working toward a culinary degree. He made the trek for weeks on endg to persuade the owners tohire him, each time receiving a “no” —until they said yes. After two-and-a-half years there, his mentor walked him to John George across the way and told him it was time to move on. Steve had conquered all the positions at Circ 2000, and he was being traded up. So went his career, conquering and learning again.

 

Both are essential to Steve’s work ethic. He says that to be really good at something, you have to surround yourself with people who are as good or better than you, and one day you’ll be better than them. That’s also why you can still find him staging today. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” he says. All chefs have something they’re great at. Why not learn from them? Plus, “once you get stale, it’s hard to go back.”

 

Steve’s commitment to learning and conquering aren’t why Oak at 14th is a Boulder favorite though. It’s a “Boulder neighborhood restaurant,” and Steve prides himself on that. In his younger years, Steve designed sexy plates and garnered national accolades. But with time, Oak at 14th has become a different restaurant for Boulderites: it’s one of comfort and familiarity, a staple in the community. Its meatballs and kale are the dishes that fly off the shelves. Speaking of, Steve tells me that the fried pickles and meatballs are coming back after their COVID-19-induced hiatus. You’re welcome. 

 

Oak is also one of Boulder’s pioneering eateries in wage pay. Seeking to level the playing field for all kitchen staff, Steve and his restaurant partner Bryan have instituted tips included within the check—it’s just another reason why Oak is an excellent establishment.

 

Stop by and check out their September Asian food specials, or keep a lookout for Steve’s new pizza joint opening in the last week of September. The views will be unmissable, as of course are Steve’s delicious dishes.

 

 

 

Marcy Miller – Organic Sandwich Co

 

Marcy is the kind of owner and chef who doesn’t hold her secret to good food close to the chest. Tell her you’ve been struggling to find a good vegan cheese, and she’ll give you Organic Sandwich Co.’s delightful recipe for a tasty vegan almond feta. (The evidence is in my inbox.) Her guiding mission throughout Organic Sandwich Co.’s five-and-a-half years and throughout her early voyage through motherhood has been to deliver truly healthy, safe, organic, local, environmentally-conscious, animal-conscious, and all-around wholesome food to as many people as she can. She knows truly healthy food and convenience don’t often go hand-in-hand. Shaking her head at baby food labels at grocery stores, Marcy entered into her first entanglements with serious, thorough commitments to clean eating in her own family when she first pureed her own sweet potatoes for baby food for her sons. Now, she’s brought convenience and health-conscious quality to all of us.

 

Treating her customers like family, she combined her passion for health with her business savvy and love for community and people in a little place in the Boulder Farmers’ Market food court back in 2014. But that’s not where it stayed. The community’s love for her delicious sandwiches and healthy offerings grew her business into Organic Sandwich Co., which she launched with her culinarily practiced sister just about a year later.

 

At the first light of the pandemic, she expanded her commitment to providing healthy, whole foods to Boulder by selling and delivering organic vegetable bags so that her customers could skip the trip to the grocery store. Since, her sammie-lovers have flocked back, many of them vegans and vegetarians rapt with the creative offerings at Organic Sandwich Co. and a number of them also clean-eating carnivores with a taste for organic foods. As snows touch down on Boulder for the first time this summer, Organic Sandwich Co. promises warm, flavorful, and hearty dishes for the soup-lovers out there too. I hear the creamy cauliflower chowder is divine. Stop by and give it a taste. I certainly plan to try it—that and of course, the tasty vegan almond feta.

 

While Marcy’s clean, organic, humane, and nearly zero-waste foods excite Boulderites near and far from Pearl Street, she says it’s her customer service that really keeps people coming back. She knows her customers’ names and stories, not because she’s entered them into a system, but because she’s learned them herself. She says she wants her shop to make people feel good when they walk through the door, and not just because of her quality food (although it does that too.) 

 

Marcy and I end our delightful conversation with her encouragement of my efforts to make cashew cream, giving me a few tips on flavor combinations. It’s clear to me that what she says is true: her food is so good because it’s so whole and so healthy, but people want to eat it and spend time in her shop because she cares so deeply about her food, her family, and her community. 

 

 

 

Nick Reckinger – Georgia Boys BBQ

 

When Nick and his old Georgia fraternity brother-turned Boulder housemate Matt first started Georgia Boys BBQ Co., they were struggling to make ends meet during the throws of the 2010 recession. Simultaneously itching for some authentic Georgia-style barbecue that they had left behind, they launched into Boulder’s blackmarket BBQ scene at full throttle. At the time, it was a way to keep enough gas in the tank to use their already-bought season passes. (“That was an epic year for skiing,” Nick tells me.) 

 

Without a license nor a kitchen, the Georgia Boys would spend their Wednesdays cooking up their OG sauces and coleslaws, fresh-baked buns, and meats, and pack it all in lunch bags before cold-calling places in town until they sold out. The early days were a grind, but soon those blossomed into salad days when Longmont’s Lefthand Brewery let them set up shop in their parking lot. Their time there was cut short by the long-awaited health department crackdown that forced Nick and Matt to commit and double down on their efforts. Moving into their first brick-and-mortar spot beside Robin’s Chocolates, they had the good fortune of renting a friendly space where they could both cook BBQ centrally in Longmont and reap the rewards of Robin’s delicious chocolatey failures—it was the perfect spot. 

 

They sold out in two-and-a-half hours on opening day, with a line stretching far beyond their expectations. Their landlord even came by to help serve food to meet Longmont’s hungry demand. Today, Nick continues to love BBQ for the same reason he always has: it tastes like home. Like comfort. And it sure requires a lot of love in return. Nick finds joy in the ritual of BBQ creation: trimming, rubbing down every inch, marinating for 24 hours, and smoking for another 16. There’s a lot of pride there. He also praises BBQ for its equalizing character. “Everyone starts at the end of the line,” Nick says. Whether you arrive in a Bentley or a busted up Subaru, you have a place around the table at Georgia Boys’ BBQ Co. 

 

It’s a little harder to mix and mingle these days—something Nick usually admires about the atmosphere at Georgia Boys’. But he’s found a bright side to COVID restrictions: there’s no better response to the limitations of physical distancing than a food truck. Nick and Matt’s food truck is getting running this month. The BBQ Outpost will serve up the same tasty foods as the Georgia Boys BBQ Co. that you know and love, offering a BBQ sauce for every entree—including jackfruit. Keep a lookout. It’s coming to City Star Brewing on the 19th of this month.

 

 

 

Fletcher Richards – Lucile’s Creole Cafe

 

Universally loved Boulder-staple creole foods aren’t Fletcher’s only area of expertise, but that’s certainly what you know him for because he’s so damn good at making them. He got his start back in 1980. In ‘81, his family opened a little restaurant in an old Victorian home, and in ‘82, at 32, he really got cookin’. Fletcher is 70 years old now, semi-retired, and still working at that same beloved Boulder restaurant, which he runs alongside his wife, his close team, and his memories built of decades of rich, creole food-focused experiences.

 

Just before Lucile’s got its start, Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun blackened redfish lit a cultural match that catalyzed an explosion in creole cooking in America. An admirer of creole cooking and the diversity and togetherness of the creole food culture, Fletcher fell out of the logging world and into the creole culinary scene. With a sociology degree in his pocket, he dedicated his time and efforts to learning all that he could about creole food: how it’s made, where it comes from, and its significance. Fletcher has traveled to coffee fields in Martinique, eateries in New Orleans, and classrooms at CU Boulder to teach a course on creole food, music, history, and linguistic evolution. Alongside his globetrotting, Lucile’s has also journeyed to New York for a feature with Al Roker and a place at the top of People Magazine’s list of best breakfasts in Colorado.

 

How did Lucile’s grow to be so large in the culinary world? Fletcher says everyone has restaurants that they like, but people use the word “love” when they talk about Lucile’s. The customers and staff are central to Fletcher and his team, and that’s not just lip service—it’s genuine. Lucile’s has also kept to its commitment to fresh foods, some of them, including the okra, coming from Fletcher’s own garden. Even as Lucile’s has grown from one little Boulder restaurant to six throughout northern Colorado, and its beignets have risen to national fame, Fletcher works hard to keep Lucile’s true to these values. He keeps his ingredients fresh, his classic house-made recipes authentic, and caring for customers and staff at the top of his priorities list. He hires people who continue the tradition of cooking love into the food.

 

As I listen to the lore of Lucile’s evening ghosts at the Boulder location and Fletcher’s sparkling description of his favorite guilty pleasure food, the creamy rice pudding porridge with raspberry sauce, I ruminate on what will happen to Lucile’s when Fletcher finally fully retires. He tells me that Lucile’s is fortunate to have younger people at the helm who will continue its warm tradition, and that I ought not worry; Lucile’s will always be here, serving the best creole brunch around to the people of Boulder.

 

 

 

Hemant Bhandari – Flavor of India

 

Hemant is an up-and-coming talent in Boulder’s Indian cuisine scene. He’s only called Boulder his home for about seven months now, having just left Louisiana for better things, but as soon as he arrived, he took to Flavor of India. He really just fell into it. 

 

Indian food has a huge range and variety in its flavors and forms, Hemant tells me, and he loves all the learning and discovery that it offers chefs like him. Having worked in five or six different Indian eateries in the last four years, he says that regionally different Indian dishes may look the same, they may be made from the same ingredients, but they can taste completely different. Understanding the complexities of flavor combinations in Indian food have been a joy for him.

 

The chicken tikka masala is Hemant’s favorite dish at Flavor of India, and it’s a community favorite too. After fifteen years in Longmont, Flavor of India has become a trusted member of the neighborhood, and the unchanging classics like the tikka masala are the reasons why Longmontians love it so. With a great team of kitchen staff, Hemant says Flavor of India consistently puts out good food. It’s a place where people find exactly what they want and expect. 

 

While Hemant thinks highly of Flavor of India, he knows that in a few short years, he’ll have to permanently resettle back in Nepal with his family there. He’d like to open his own Indian food eatery there, but “who knows?” he says. It may not work out.“The Nepalese like Nepalese food.” At least we have him and his Indian cooking for a little while longer in Boulder County.

 

 

Cade Snider – Waterloo

 

Cade’s knowledge of the food chain stretches all the way back to his upbringing on a farm and ranch in rural Montana. From there, he entered the cooking world. He was lead chef at Walnut Street’s Brasserie Ten Ten for much of his cooking career, but as of three months ago, he’s taken up a new identity: head chef at Waterloo. 

 

“Love for dairy is in the blood,” Cade explains good-naturedly, but it’s the Colorado Bison burger that really draws people here. Cade cheerily praises all the tasty burger options at the Louisville loved locale and divulges his personal favorite food, fresh pasta with classic marinara or bolognese.

 

When I ask him about Waterloo’s vegan options, he regales me with a delightful description of the soon-to-be vegan gnocchi just before cheekily adding, “We’re happy to accommodate all. We don’t have an issue with it anymore.” Anymore, hah.

 

Although Cade clearly has a meat-and-dairy-loving palette, he accepts the more plant-focused folk and has created a pleasant space in Waterloo’s offerings for them. 

 

He tells me that his secret as a good cook is his passion and love for it—they come from the soul. “If you care, it’ll taste good,” he says and clearly means. 

 

Waterloo has a following, and it’s not just the live music nights, the Austin record shop-decorated walls, or the epic level good Bison Burger. People keep coming back because it’s the whole package—good food and good vibes all around. That’s big for Cade—it’s why he’s so pleased to take part in and contribute to Waterloo’s vibrant tradition.

 

 

 

Noah Westby – Dagabi Cucina

 

Okay, so Noah isn’t actually a chef. But, he has owned Dagabi Cucina for eighteen years now—a hell of a long time. Dagabi itself has been a delight for the Boulder community for closer to thirty years, long enough to cement itself as a favorite here. In fact, before Noah bought the eatery during a fortuitous coffee delivery to the former-owner-looking to sell, Noah was a loyal customer of the place.

 

Dagabi holds a special place deep in Noah Westby’s heart. Why? Because this restaurant belongs to the community. “You don’t see a lot of tourists or a lot of [transient] CU kids,” Noah tells me. “It’s really about the community that we’ve built here over the last eighteen years.” His staff has been with him for over twelve of those years, and his talented head chef, Antonio Rulo, has been a member of the Dagabi family for twenty. It’s a personal space. Even Noah’s own nuclear family is weaved into the Dagabi tribe, with his wife managing take-out and cooking award-winning chili and his sons preparing food in the kitchen. His youngest at age six cuts (and tastes) the pizza every night.

 

Noah remembers his first night as owner. He adored the sauvignon-drenched chocolate torte as a customer, and it dawned on him that he could have as much of it as he wanted after buying the joint. He sat down to a full torta de chocolate and revelled in his new home.

 

Since then, Noah has moved Dagabi Cucina to focus on the authentic Spanish flavors that he learned to create growing up with his grandma. Noah tells me that those flavors are unmissable—you just have to try them (alongside the torte, of course). And while the descriptions of a couple dishes may give some customers pause (the tripe stew or the morcilla, a traditional blood sauce dish), Noah encourages us to step out of our zone of familiarity and give them a go—they are all truly delicious and beautiful dishes.

 

 

 

 

Bob Sargent – Savory Cuisines

 

Bob Sargent has been the owner and head chef at Boulder’s favorite catering service, Savory Cuisines, for 18 years now. But at the sunrise of Bob’s career, when he worked to develop menus and catering options for Boulder’s restaurants, not a soul supported his dream of becoming a head chef. “You’re too friendly!” his bosses would tell him. And he is. Bob’s a charismatic guy. Fun. Amiable. The kind of person who makes an hour of conversation fly by. Ask him about his foods, and you’ll hear the passion behind his voice as he tells you about the mad fusions and wacky culinary experiments he’s made and conducted. He might tell you about his curried phyllo roll flop or the chemistry lesson he gleaned from a pineapple marinated chicken concoction. No matter what he says, you’ll get the impression that this is what he loves doing.

 

A world traveler, Bob uses flavors and knowledge he’s gleaned from locals and Michelin star restaurants across the globe. From Europe to Mexico, Bhutan, and Argentina, he’s seen it all. (And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of his twenty-five-year-long list of travels.) 

 

Despite his self-identified “pretty outrageous” and delicious dishes and despite his charm, COVID-19 has hit his catering business hard. Of course, he still serves his tasty international cuisines to small wedding parties during the summer (so if you’re getting married, you better get in touch with Bob!), but after the wedding season ends, he plans to bring his BBQ french dips and sriracha aioli-smeared bright bahn mis on vibrant turmeric focaccia to a flavor-filled food truck. It’s a new era of lunchbox packaging for him. And a new era of entrees wrapped up as sandwiches. Check out his eclectic collection of delectables this October at his food truck, probably parked somewhere around Table Mesa and Broadway. Or just get his attention on the ole IG: @savorycuisinescatoring.

 

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