Four-time James Beard Award nominee, and two-time Top Chef contestant, Chef John Tesar knows his way around the kitchen. The brains behind the award-winning Dallas restaurant, Knife, Tesar is now honing in on Denver, bringing his talents to Element Kitchen & Cocktail, slated to open in July at 11th and Broadway. Element Kitchen & Cocktail will offer an elevated version of the traditional sports bar with a carefully curated menu focused on seasonal and local foods, while and celebrating the best of Colorado’s beer and spirits. The menu will feature a range of options including gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan offerings, while pleasing carnivores with artisanal pork butcher boards, burgers, and steak. Element Kitchen & Cocktail will highlight and display the distance of each brewery, distillery or winery from the restaurant. DiningOut caught up with Chef Tesar to get the scoop behind his latest project.
DiningOut: You attended culinary school in France. What motivated that decision?
Chef Tesar: I started out in the Hamptons, surfing during the day and cooking at night. I cooked in a French restaurant that I ultimately ended up buying, but in the 1980s to be taken seriously as a chef you had to be European-trained. Your culinary school was a large part of your career, and that training has helped me every step of the way since.
What do you cook for your family when at home?
When we cook at home, it’s very clean and simple because I’m usually eating richer foods in the restaurant. We’ll start with pancakes and fruit, or eggs, simple things like that. My six year old loves vegetables, and we often go out to eat. Mexican is a particular favorite. When I cook, though, I try to cook hungry, so I can savor it, and experience the emotional component.
What do you think about food trends?
Well, it’s a philosophical reality that as times change, we as chefs are having to reinvent ourselves. This has to be selective, obviously, you have to move ahead without destroying the work you’ve already done. Some of the classic restaurants, like Le Bernardin, they can continue to do what they’re doing because it’s a well-oiled machine. But having a career as a chef, it’s so glamorized, but you still have to bring a level of history, a strong foundation, but then be able to create a new energy in the direction you’re going.
How does Element Kitchen & Cocktail plan on adding a new dimension to Denver’s dining scene?
I’ve watched Denver’s food scene explode over the last few years, and had the pleasure of working alongside some of the city’s greats. My main goal at Element as the Consulting Chef is to be proud of what we’re producing. The menu at Element will be approachable to everyone. I’ve spent 10 years taking a concept and elevating it, and at Element, we’ll be marrying something Denverites love—sports—and marrying that sports bar concept to an elevated and sophisticated menu of food.
How is your typical sports bar food going to be different at Element? What’s your inspiration?
Well, take your sports bar dishes—let’s just say it’s a Shrimp Po’Boy—and instead of deep-fried shrimp, it’s going to be something like fresh Carolina shrimp that’s pan-fried. What we will bring to the menu is attention to detail, our cooking technique, and our experiences as chefs. Element won’t just be for the sports lover, but it will be for the foodie, too. You’ll see some of the things you typically see on the menu at a sports bar, but prepared in an atypical way. So nothing is out of a plastic bag, our ingredients are sourced differently—real, seasonal, and local—and the food will be made in a real kitchen. We want to bring the, ahem, element of authenticity, health, consistency, and integrity to a fun environment.
What kind of experience to you want your guests to have at Element?
I want people to come for lunch, or happy hour, or dinner, and be able to relax, meet up with friends, share a meal, and enjoy themselves. We’ll also have the upstairs sneaker-themed bar, we’re calling it a Sneak-easy, with designer sneakers, craft cocktails, and small plates. We want to draw in people from the neighborhood, make it a place where people come for an experience, have a great meal, and watch the game. We’ll be a place that’s the opposite of your bad sports bar experience, and instead, deliver consistent quality that folks can rely on.
Rebecca Treon, Editor