On May 7, Colorado Springs lost an icon in the culinary community, Fran Folsom. She was 96. Her name may not be as familiar as some of our local chefs or food events, but Folsom played a big role in the evolution of our culinary scene starting in the 1970s. We wanted to take a moment and look back at her career and impact.
Born in 1924, Folsom earned a home economics degree from the University of Minnesota, then joined General Electric’s Hotpoint Home Economics Institute. She eventually became not just the director of her department but the only female department head in the company. She and her husband moved overseas for his job, and in the early 1970s they settled in Colorado Springs, where she pursued her love of art and cooking.
During that decade, she conducted classes at The Little Kitchen at The Broadmoor and became the director of The Broadmoor Cooking School. There, Folsom brought in world-renowned chefs — many of them personal friends — to teach classes. Notable among them was Jacques Pepin, long before he became a groundbreaking celebrity chef.
Also during those early years, she and I were fellow food columnists for the Colorado Springs Sun. Folsom penned columns about travel and wine as well. Through her business, Food and Wine Experience, she took eager travelers to wineries and cooking classes in the Western United States and Europe. I took a memorable trip with her to Kathie Alex’s cooking school in France, called Cooking with Friends, for a class held at La Pitchoune, the private home formerly owned by Julia Child.
Longtime residents will recall the popular Chefs’ Gala, presented by The Colorado Springs Chorale, which ended in 2015 after a 30-year run. Folsom handpicked celebrity judges, such as Pepin and Martha Stewart, for the competitive chef cookoff, and she officiated the judging. The event became one of the most prestigious food competitions for chefs to enter, and winners — like James Africano, owner of the Warehouse Restaurant — still proudly display their certificates at their eateries.
In 2011, the Fran Folsom Culinary Arts Scholarship program was established at the Pikes Peak Community College Culinary Arts Department. Here again, Folsom worked closely with the school to select the winning chefs and plan the annual benefit dinner prepared by students of the culinary program. Folsom was always present at the dinners, beaming with joy over the students’ accomplishments.
Culinary friends near and far remembered Folsom fondly.
Supansa Banker, a personal chef who graduated from PPCC’s culinary program and went on to become an award-winning chef, said, “I’m glad I got to know her some outside of school and became friends with her. I’m also glad I got to visit with her before she passed. I remembered she said how happy and delightful I had made her day and that she could sit and talk food with me all day.”
Kathy Loo, a longtime supporter of local art and culinary programs, knew Folsom since the 1970s. She recalls taking as many classes as she could at The Little Kitchen and said, “Fran’s moving to town raised the bar on the quality and interest of cuisine in Colorado Springs. She brought so many famous chefs to town to teach.”
Judy Sellers was leading an art exhibit tour for the Fine Arts Center when she first met Folsom. That was 40 years ago, she said, and “it was quickly apparent that she knew at least as much as I did, and probably more. I was so impressed with her knowledge and warm personality.”
Travel and food were their shared passions, and the two women put together a “very fun and waist-expanding” wine and food trip in the 1980s to the Napa Valley for their respective Colorado Springs garden clubs, Sellers said. “She was truly charismatic in sharing her knowledge and joy in exploring the many facets of great food while making everything such fun for us all.”
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