Erickson recounts his journey from kitchens in Georgia to cooking in Boulder and Golden.
Chef Michael Erickson came from Georgia to get away from the humidity, but he hasn’t escaped the heat of one of the best-known kitchens in Golden.
The afternoon I arrived to meet him and enjoy food from his restaurant, Golden’s Table Mountain Inn, was a prime example of this. It was the start of graduation weekend for the Colorado School of Mines, and kitchen staff was getting ready for a wedding the next day with two more planned. They were expecting a full dining room for dinner on Friday, diners all day on Saturday, brunches, and even a fairly busy Sunday night.
It was nonstop.
I asked him what was going through his mind as he took a break to talk with me and, in a single sentence, he rattled off a list of things he and his staff of 10 to 15 people would have to work through.
Erickson is clearly at a place in his career where he can competently run a staff and repeatedly crank out high-quality, Southwest dinners Table Mountain Inn is known for. He got to this place in his career over time.
“I started late in my opinion,” he said. “Went to the normal college, tried the normal path. Couldn’t get the grasp of it. Changed my major and one of my friends talked to me about culinary school.” That clicked. It not only gave him the skills he needed for his current work, it enabled him to study in Italy for three months where he met his wife, also a chef.
Since graduating, his work has been a combination of fine dining and cooking for large events. He started at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta. He left to follow a colleague to Restaurant Eugene with Litton Hopkins, a James Beard Award-winning chef. “I fell in love with food at that point,” he recalled. “We had farmers in dirty overalls dropping off food. I really began appreciating where food comes from.”
In 2016, he and his wife moved to Colorado, and he set his sights on working for one single place in the state: Boulder’s Hotel Boulderado and Spruce Farm and Fish, owned by Frank Day’s Concept Restaurants. He reached that goal after first serving as sous chef at Table Mountain Inn.
Boulder was all he expected it to be, and eventually, he found himself following the restaurant’s executive chef back to Table Mountain Inn and running the kitchen.
Now, he knows he’s responsible for setting the tone of how things will run, and he’s seen a lot in his career that has shown him how he doesn’t want to do things. “It takes a special kind of person who can get through that old school mentality of being a chef and come out on top. To go into that pressure and come out a diamond,” Erickson said.
In his kitchen, he wants to set an environment of consideration for all of the personality styles that might be present. And he wants to keep things even keeled. “I expect people to be calm, cool, and collected, but if a sense of urgency needs to be put out there, there’s a reason behind it. If you get loud, explaining the reasons behind it is important.”
He’s equally clear on his philosophy of food. “The first thing that got me into cooking was Cajun food, jambalaya, étouffée, that extreme depth of flavor. They do a lot with a little, they build all of this flavor, but they build it with rice and beans. A lot of it is the part of the animals that aren’t thought of. It’s excitement, an explosion of flavor.”
Erickson can see parallels between the food he loves and how some of his favorite dishes work at Table Mountain Inn. “It’s about getting a lot for a little here too. Making sure the recipe is balanced. Is this the right chile that we’re getting in?” That was easy to taste in the meal I enjoyed: fresh street tacos, a pork belly appetizer, and griddled corn pancakes with plantain. This was some of the freshest, well-seasoned Southwest food I’d had in Colorado in quite a while.
Because he is running a restaurant in Golden, the home of Coors Brewing, Erickson naturally considers beer as he creates his menus. He cooks and pairs meals not only with Coors but also with beers made by other restaurants Concept owns like Boulder Social. Have an Irish red from Boulder Social. Also have a hazy IPA.
Overall, what brings him back to work each day is a passion he’s found for being in the industry. “Growing up, cooking with my grandmother. The history that you can experience through your food. For me, it is about that.”