Pete Moreno, a Colorado Springs native and graduate of Wasson High School, has made quite a name for himself in our culinary community.
After 16 years as executive chef at MacKenzie’s Chop House, he joined the popular steakhouse Prime25 as executive chef in July. While it might not have been the best time to start anew in the restaurant business due to the pandemic, Prime25’s loyal customers have kept Moreno a busy chef.
Working in upscale restaurants isn’t new to Moreno. But it’s impressive considering his training has only been in the kitchens where he has been employed, and not culinary school.
Born in 1975, he started working in eateries at the age of 16, in the dish pit at the Roma Villa. It was 1991, and he needed a job to help take care of “restitution”to pay for some property he had stolen. There he met Jeff Law, who he considers a father figure who “helped me stay out of trouble, like I had been in before with hanging out with bad friend choices.”
Moreno ended up following Law to several other restaurant kitchens.
The first was Adam’s Mountain Café, where Moreno worked as a cook. He and Law formed a close relationship and spent their Mondays off having lunch together.
“We both had daughters that were about the same age,” Moreno said. “Jeff would prepare dishes from different cuisines, like Greek, and I really started getting interested in exploring different flavors and ingredients.”
Moreno and Law cooked together at Adam’s for about three years.
“Jeff was seriously interested in wine and started working as a wine rep,” Moreno said. “I got a job at Chez Pierre restaurant in 1995. I was working with chef Francis Schott and his sous chef, Joey Mestas, and learned basic classic French cooking techniques and sauces. This was definitely a fine dining establishment.”
When Chez Pierre closed, Moreno landed a job at Primitivo Wine Bar and worked with executive chef John Broening.
“John taught he how to cook and prepare dishes with finesse,” Moreno said. “He came from fine dining restaurants in San Francisco and New York. He was intense, but I like that. That’s what I loved about my best coaches in high school. The harder and more detailed they are, the better it makes me strive for higher expectations in myself.”
Broening, who lives in Denver, remembers Moreno well as very talented.
“He has a gift for self-learning,” Broening said. “By that I mean he doesn’t have to be shown every step of the way to do a task, he’s curious. Some chefs are curious, but they don’t have the fire to learn more. He reads cookbooks and gets out to eat and try new cuisines.”
Broening saw Moreno mature as a leader.
“On top of all that, he’s very funny,” Broening said. “That’s a plus in people management. Pete has a lot of talent and culinary knowledge. Prime25 is lucky to have him.”
Moreno left Primitivo to worked at the Blue Star, from 2001 to 2002, with executive chef James Davis.
“Then I went to work at La Petite Maison with executive chef Christine (Adrian-Miller) and owner Jeff Mervis,” he said. “When Chris left La Petite, I replaced her as executive chef and stayed there until 2003.”
Miller, who has retired, has fond memories of Moreno.
“Pete was always wonderful to work with,” she said. “He’s a very passionate chef, and loves food and wine pairing.”
In 2004, Moreno took over the kitchen at MacKenzie’s Chop House — and stopped moving around. He stayed there until joining Prime25.
“When Prime first opened,” he said, “the owners talked to me about joining their team. I networked with friends and decided to wait for a little time to see how things would go. They asked me again last year, and it seemed like a good fit.”
Moreno is grateful for the knowledge he acquired from all his mentors.
“I was really lucky to have worked with some of the best chefs and restaurant owners in town,” he said. “I learned about wine from Jeff (Law) and Alan (Manley, former owner of Primitivo). I learned about food from John (Broening) and the numbers side of the business from Dave (Lux) and Luke (Travins, co-owners of Concept Restaurant Group, which includes MacKenzie’s Chop House).”
Travins has praise and pride for the time he and Moreno worked together.
“Chef Pete’s work ethic is incredible,” he said. “He lives for his kitchen and his devotion to his staff is unwavering. I’ve always thought Pete’s ingredient choices were on point. Never too far-fetched where the customer was dissuaded, but always creative within the steakhouse genre. I’m a spice fan, so I always personally loved his Latin- and Mexican-influenced dishes. Pete and I always felt we were learning things from each other, be it new recipes, service techniques or pairing wines. I’m so appreciative of the nearly two decades we spent collaborating.”
Grace Harrison, an owner of Almagre Bar and Lounge, who frequently invites guest chefs to prepare wine dinners at the bar and event center, says Moreno is one of her favorite chefs.
“We’ve had the pleasure of working with chef Pete Moreno for several of our dinners at Almagre and love every opportunity we get to welcome him back,” she said. “Pete is incredibly creative and always up for a challenge. Whether we start with a specific theme or wine region, he always finds a way to create a meal that pairs perfectly with the cocktails or wine while providing a culinary experience that leaves our guests raving about every bit of each course.”
Bottom line: Moreno has polished lessons from his work in professional kitchens.
Contact the writer: 636-0271.