Dani Cole is the chef at Boulder’s Shine Community’s Restaurant and Potion Bar. Hailing from Michigan, Dani grew up cooking with her grandmother. “My first experience in the kitchen was probably when I was about eight years old. We started with cookies and those kinds of simple things, you know, for when you’re a kid.” Dani went on: “My father’s mother gave me the bug for cooking. She was always talking about food. She didn’t even wait for you to get to the house. She would just have a bowl of veggies ready, all cut up and ready to go,” and chuckled.
When asked when she first felt the inkling that she would go on to be a chef, Dani smirked and explained, “You know, it’s so silly, but it all started with going to BD’s Mongolian BBQ for the first time. So it’s basically a stir fry place but every Saturday was my family’s leftover day. I remember being like, ‘I don’t want to just eat this steak again’; I was getting bored. So I began to get creative, like ‘oh, I can make this steak into steak fajitas’. I began to be like, ‘what can I do with these leftovers to make something new and interesting that I actually want to eat?’”
Dani didn’t originally plan on becoming a chef. She didn’t find her culinary love until she moved to California. “I was spending a lot of time in bookstores, reading cook books all the time. I was just like, ‘You know what? I think about food all the time, I am reading all these books all the time, why don’t I just go for it, and do it?’ So that is what I did.” Dani enrolled and graduated from California’s School of Culinary Arts.
“Italian food was a big thing for me growing up and when I first began culinary school. We learned French and I absolutely fell in love with it. You just keep throwing creme and butter into everything and it’s so good!” As time went on Dani used the knowledge she gained from culinary school to fine tune her ingredient and pallet selections.
She took a moment to remember a cherished mentor from her time in school, “One of my favorite mentors, he was French Algerian, he got me to fall in love with North African food as well. It had this big bold flavor with a lot of spices paired with couscous that is so fluffy and buttery. I love it paired with preserved lemons; they’re just great. And then over the years it’s really turned into a farm-to-table, locally sourced, seasonal fare, for my personal and professional cooking, you know, the stuff that I really love.”
Dani started from the bottom of the totem pole just like everyone else. “I did all the grunt work stuff that everyone has to do; you have to really put your time in.” After a bit of gig hopping, Dani found a restaurant that would ultimately set her on the career path she is walking today. “I found a restaurant that kind of changed everything for me. It was called Food Dance in Michigan. They focus on locally sourced farm-to-table and it was where I really fell in love with that type of cooking.” Dani worked at Food Dance for five years, soaking up all the knowledge and techniques she could.
Dani set her sights on Colorado and decided to make the move. She stumbled upon Shine and set out to scope out not only the restaurant but Boulder as well. “I have been working for two years, as of September. I love it here; this restaurant has challenged me and it allows me to keep growing as a chef.” Dani aspires to open her own modern French restaurant one day. She currently writes for her own food blog, Just Follow Food!. Make sure to visit Shine to catch a taste of Dani’s phenomenal cooking.