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The 2016 James Beard Foundation Dinner

Denver's top chefs create an unforgettable meal to benefit the James Beard Foundation and honor a fallen comrade

Chef Evan Treadwell

Chef Evan Treadwell

This month, there’s been a lot of talk around the DiningOut offices about what the most memorable meals of 2016 were. Hands down, one of the most exciting menus and events was the James Beard Foundation‘s annual dinner, held at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash. The event brought together a handful of Denver’s top chefs, each preparing a passed appetizer and a main course, paired with wines from the Joseph Phelps Winery in Napa. The proceeds from the event benefited the James Beard Foundation’s aspiring chefs scholarship program.

At the beginning of a new year, we have the chance to pause and look at both the year that’s just gone and the year that’s yet to come. In 2016, popular culture suffered so many significant losses, but here in Colorado, our own culinary community also lost one of its own, too—Chef Evan Treadwell of Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, who died in a tragic boating accident on September 6.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch, situated on 6,000 acres of privately owned wilderness, has been the home of the James Beard Foundation’s annual fundraiser for the past five years. This year, seven chefs gathered to pay homage to Chef Treadwell’s legacy, which was largely centered around mentoring fellow chefs. In fact, Treadwell was instrumental in helping to develop the kitchen and curriculum at the soon to be opened community center in nearby Winter Park.

Chef Alex Seidel of Fruition

Chef Alex Seidel of Fruition

The dinner started with Chef Alex Seidel’s Confit Veal Sweetbreads with Green Apple Jam. For the James Beard Award-nominated Chef/Owner of Fruition, Mercantile Dining & Provisions, and Fruition Farms, participation in the event is significant because, as he says, “The James Beard Foundation represents the story of a cooking legend.  Beyond the story is the work they do to educate chefs and push the good food movement in America.  I want to be a part of that movement.”

Chef Brandon Foster of Project Angel Heart

Chef Brandon Foster of Project Angel Heart

Next, Chef Brandon Foster of Project Angel Heart (formerly of Vesta) offered Blue Crab topped with Ras-al-Hanout and Osetra Caviar, followed by Old Major’s Chef Justin Brunson’s Pork and Lobster Sausage served on a bed of Colorado Grits with clams and lobster gravy.

Chef Justin Brunson's Pork and Lobster Sausage with Colorado Grits, Clams, and Lobster Gravy

Chef Justin Brunson’s Pork and Lobster Sausage with Colorado Grits, Clams, and Lobster Gravy

Chef Jeff Osaka, of [email protected], Sushirama, Osaka Ramen, and Silva Fish Market contributed a Peking Duck Breast with Five-Spiced Apple Crumble. Honoring Chef Treadwell was important for Osaka this year, who cited the importance of participating in the event by saying, “I’ve been a longtime member and supporter of the James Beard Foundation, so it was a no-brainer when I was asked to participate in the event four years ago. This year was especially important to be involved to pay homage to the memory of chef Evan Treadwell. Besides being a great guy and a talented chef, it was always his goal to leave a legacy to anyone coming into the culinary field. The way he led and guided his staff was second to none. His presence, even with his absence, was felt throughout the kitchen. ”

Chef Jeff Osaka

Chef Jeff Osaka

Chef Paul C. Reilly of Beast + Bottle and Coperta, says “It’s important to me to take advantage when I am asked to use my time and talent to support educating the next generation of chefs. I, myself, am a James Beard Foundation scholarship winner and my experiences studying responsibly harvested fish in Maine changed my career. I am delighted to help pay it forward.” Reilly served up a Lamb Sausage with Pumpkin Agnolotti and squid ink brown butter.

Paul C. Reilly's Lamb Chop with Pumpkin Agnolotti, and Lamb Sausage

Paul C. Reilly’s Lamb Chop with Pumpkin Agnolotti, and Lamb Sausage

The final two courses were created by the ranch’s in-house team of chefs, Chef Andrew Aghajanian, cooking in memory of Chef Treadwell, and Pastry Chef Natalie Basarov. Aghajanian served an Eye of Wagyu Prime Rib, made with beef from the ranch’s own herd, while Basarov served a dessert of Butternut Squash-Brown Butter Custard.

Chef Natalie Basarov's Butternut Squash Brown Butter Custard

Chef Natalie Basarov’s Butternut Squash Brown Butter Custard

The evening is a trifecta of benefits all around—diners benefit by enjoying a 7-course culinary extravaganza, chefs being challenged to create something along a theme and sample each other’s dishes, and the James Beard Foundation, because they can continue the work of providing support to aspiring culinary professionals, in the case of the 2016 dinner, in honor of one of Colorado’s fallen greats.

Rebecca Treon, Editor