Updated: September 28, 2010 at 12:00 am
A new culinary star is born.
Food & Wine magazine has named Denver chef Alex Seidel to its Best New Chefs in the U.S. list.
The award, launched in 1988, recognizes rising-star chefs “with an innovative style and distinctive vision creating exceptionally delicious food,” said Dana Cowin, Food & Wine editor in chief. Each 10 chefs are selected and announced during the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen.
Over 22 years, only a few Colorado chefs have been named Best New Chef: Nobu Matsuhisa in 1989; Charles Dale in 1995; James Mazzio in 1999; Joseph Wrede in 2000; Bryan Moscatello in 2003.; and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson in 2005. Now, another Colorado chef has been selected: Seidel, who, with Paul Attardi, owns the 31/2-year-old Fruition Restaurant in Denver.
“I was clueless that I had been nominated and there had been editors from the magazine into the restaurant to evaluate the food,” Seidel said. “When Dana called to let me know I had been chosen, I was stunned. It’s a huge, humbling honor.”
Seidel’s approach to life and to his kitchen work is probably best described as modest and unassuming. For instance, at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic, where the Best New Chefs prepare a sampling dinner the final night, he was the most low-key of any of the honored chefs. He graciously and unceremoniously served, I think, the best dish of the bunch. His baby lamb rib eye was a picture of beauty, with perfectly balanced flavors.
When I learned that he also owns a farm in Larkspur, where he grows greens for his restaurant and several others in Denver, I made it my business to get there to talk to him. He is one chef who not only says he uses local foods, he grows them. He spends about three days a week at the farm working on various projects.
“I bought the farm in May,” he said. “The first thing we (he and his restaurant staff) built was a greenhouse to grow micro greens. We supply about 25 other restaurants with greens.”
The day I meet him, he was deep into building a dairy where he will make his sheep’s milk cheeses.
“Hey, I’m from Wisconsin,” said Seidel, 37. “I love cheese and not many people are making sheep-milk cheese.”
He started with a herd of 120 sheep.
“I started small,” he said. “I hired the head cheesemaker from Haystack Goat Dairy in Boulder to be our cheesemaker. My dream is to supply other restaurants with cheese and maybe get it into Whole Foods (Market).”
The main purpose of the farm — besides offering a fun break for his staff who clamber to get a turn at working there — is to supply his restaurant with fresh ingredients.
“We can customize the food on our menu with what we grow,” he said, “and we can grow unique foods that other chefs are looking for.”
Such as charcuterie.
“We have a space in the dairy for aging meats so we can make unique sausages for charcuterie plates,” he said.
Charcuterie refers to foods such as patés, galantines and dried meats.
Being named Best New Chef has helped him get some much-needed equipment.
“Yes, I have gotten some promotional items,” he said, “like this Kabuto tractor. I would not have gotten a new one, so it was nice to have it provided. I think they liked the idea of me being a chef who was also investing time to grow my own food.”
And the honor has been good for business.
“We have had an amazing response,” he said. “My partner and I are very pleased that customers are finding us.”
The cuisine at Fruition features what’s in season prepared with a comfort-food style. For instance, the summer menu includes dishes like Heirloom Tomato B.L.T. with creamy burrata cheese, LaQuercia prosciutto, Brioche croutons and Fruition Farms basil. Or, Salmon Creek Farms Pork Chop with Olathe corn and goat cheese blini, confit of cherry tomato and grilled baby artichoke salad and barbecue lentil jus. It’s this type of cooking that got Seidel noticed.
Seidel has come a long way from his growing-up days in Racine, Wis. After high school, “I took a job at Louise’s Trattoria in Milwaukee,” he said. “I just needed to make some money, but it wasn’t long before I realized I really enjoyed cooking.”
That’s where he gained his love for fresh ingredients.
“It was the first time I had seen wild mushrooms,” he said. “Remember, this was in 1991, in Wisconsin. I had only seen my mom used canned mushrooms.”
Eventually, he went to Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore. With his culinary degree under his belt, he headed to California, where he cooked alongside luminary chef Hubert Keller. He worked in several other kitchens on the West Coast before heading to Vail, where he got the chef de cuisine position at Sweet Basil.
With some more travel to other countries and other cooking gigs on his resume, he came to Denver, where became the executive chef at Mizuna. That lasted four years before he left to open Fruition.
“We named the restaurant Fruition because, between Paul and I, we have 50 years of restaurant experience,” he said.
“We have come to fruition with this restaurant and our careers.”
Some questions for Alex Seidel
Question: What’s your favorite dish to make at home?
Answer: Simple barbecue for the family — rib eye, corn and grilled asparagus.
Q: What three ingredients could you not cook without?
A: Salt, eggs and shallots.
Q: When it comes to eating, what’s your guilty pleasure?
A: Pork and cheese.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?
A: Blue Hill at Stone Barns (in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.).
Q: What cooking tips could you offer to readers to make their time in the kitchen easier?
A: Read the recipe through two times and understand the methods. Next. have all the ingredients ready to assemble.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you ever made while cooking?
A: I make a lot of mistakes every day, but I force myself to learn from them and not repeat them.
Where: 1313 E. Sixth Ave., Denver
Contact: fruitionrestaurant.com, 1-303-831-1962
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 5 to 8 p.m. Sundays
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Being selected as one of the 10 Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine can put a chef on the culinary map. Here’s a look at what some of the Colorado chefs have experienced and where you can find them now.
Nobu Matsuhisa, 1989 — Matsuhisa currently has 17 restaurants in 13 cities worldwide, including Melbourne, Australia; Los Angeles; San Diego; and Waikiki, Hawaii.
Charles Dale, 1995 — In 2003, Dale shuttered Aspen’s Renaissance and transformed the space into Range restaurant, which he subsequently sold along with its sister restaurant, Rustique Bistro. In 2005 he formed Dale’s Kitchen, a packaged-food company, in Savannah, Ga. In April 2008, he became the executive chef at Terra restaurant at the Encantado resort in Santa Fe, N.M.
James Mazzio, 1999 — In addition to serving as executive chef at Denver-area Italian eateries Via Modern Italian Trattoria and Cucina Colore, Mazzio has worked on several other businesses. He created the now-defunct ChefJam, which combined a cooking school with a display kitchen and restaurant. He was also involved with the now-defunct Neighborhood Flix Cinema & Café, a hybrid movie theater and restaurant. He is currently consulting with Denver restaurants.
Joseph Wrede, 2000 — Wrede is still executive chef at Joseph’s Table, but in 2003 the restaurant moved to the Hotel La Fonda on the Taos Plaza in Taos, N.M. In 2005, Wrede bought the Main Street Bakery in Taos; he spent a year revamping it and renamed it Joe’s Mainstreet Bakery & Cafe. He is also the consultant chef for the Old Blinking Light restaurants in Taos and Denver, which specialize in New Mexican cuisine.
Bryan Moscatello, 2003 — In 2005, Moscatello left Adega in Denver for Charleston, S.C., where he cooked at several restaurants, including the Peninsula Grill, Fleet Landing and Boulevard Diner. He moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 2006 and became executive chef of Indigo Landing, where he cooked dishes typical of South Carolina’s low country. In 2007, Moscatello became the executive chef of the Star Restaurant Group. He now also oversees the kitchens of Zola and Spy City Café.
Lachlan Mackinnon-Patter-son, 2005 — Mackinnon-Patterson, who is still the chef at Frasca in Boulder, released an old-vine Tocai wine in July 2007 with Bobby Stuckey, the restaurant’s sommelier, and Richard Betts, the wine director of the Little Nell in Aspen. The grapes are grown in Italy’s Friuli region, which is also the area that inspires the food served at Frasca.
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