Kitchen Culture Q&A

Getting to know the unsung heroes.

Modern professional kitchen with many workers moving around (blurred).
Our unsung heroes play a pivotal role in making any kitchen run like clockwork. / zhudifeng ©

It’s no secret that a restaurant is the sum of its parts and that often, those in the ranks don’t receive enough recognition. For this series, we’re on a mission to find the industry’s true unsung heroes—help us by nominating one of yours at

Smiling Honduran woman with black hair wearing denim button down shirt.
Denia Estrada is making her mark at Aurum. / Courtesy Denia Estrada

Prep cook Denia Estrada is an “unassuming rock star,” says Aurum Food and Wine co-owner Phil Armstrong. She was brought on as a prep cook in the Steamboat Springs kitchen (there’s also a Breckenridge location) about 18 months ago. “I see Denia prepping and then one day she’s at the cold station, and then the hot line. She’s a team player and she wants to learn all aspects of the kitchen,” Armstrong says. Estrada fits perfectly under the leadership of chef de cuisine—and natural teacher—Gabriel Ledesma, who, Armstrong says, treats Aurum’s kitchen like a mini cooking school. It’s no wonder Estrada considers Ledesma her mentor; as she puts it, “He is my example to follow.”

DiningOut: Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?

Denia Estrada: I was born in Honduras. My childhood was very good, filled with happiness and with my family.

DO: How and when did you discover cooking and kitchen work?

DE: It was in Honduras, helping my mother make tamales and so many other things that she used to make. This was when I was 12 years old.

DO: What was the first dish/item you learned to cook?

DE: There were many things, but I remember having cooked my first salmon to perfection.

DO: Tell me about a special food memory.

DE: My memory is eating traditional dishes from my country. It makes me feel like I’m home again.

DO: What do you love about the restaurant industry?

DE: I like the food [and] the camaraderie that is in the restaurant. Above all, that we all help one another, seeing that each one of us is very dedicated to cooking.

DO: Do you have a motto, mantra, or a favorite quote?

DE: If I do things well, one day I’ll become a chef. Everything is possible if I put my mind to it.

DO: Please complete the sentence: “Working in a restaurant is like…”

DE: A return to my childhood: full of emotions and happiness, knowing that I share my day with people that I consider part of my family.

Tune into Best Served, a podcast from Jensen Cummings. The Denver chef spent his entire career cooking and owning restaurants, until he realized he could better serve those around him by being a conduit of community. Cummings has since made it his mission to find and champion the industry’s unsung heroes.

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to


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