Celebrating the Life of Chef Amos Watts

BY Linnea Covington

SHARE

“Not all heroes wear capes.”

Those words stuck out to me as I combed through social media trying to figure out what had happened in the Denver dining scene to make people post about the good old days at Acorn and other lauded places in Denver’s restaurant history. Then I found it, chef Amos Watts, founder of The Fifth String, passed away this weekend.

The hero part made sense. Amos was the sort of person other chefs looked up to. The kind of chef writers, especially this one, wanted to talk to. Amos brought people in, seeing the talent and future they could have, and willing to help them along the way. Yes, Amos was a hero in the Denver food scene, wearing an apron like armor while championing small producers, new chefs, old chefs, hidden creativity, and the overall joy of being at a restaurant. 

“Amos saw the hidden potential in people and would draw it out of them at all costs,” wrote chef John Bissell in an Instagram post. “Not everyone could handle the heat, but those that did saw their careers grow exponentially.”

Amos rocked the local dining scene for over 20 years, cooking at Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, Acorn, Old Major, and Corrida. He opened The Fifth String in 2020, taking over the Old Major spot after owner Justin Brunson closed shop and sold it to Amos, his friend and longtime colleague. The restaurant moved in 2023 and into Attimo Wine, where Amos created something akin to an elevated pop up. He wasn’t done with The Fifth String, his first solo concept after working with so many great chefs and restaurant groups in Colorado.

amos watts at farmers market
Back in 2018 I got to shop for produce with Amos Watts at the Union Station Farmers Market. | Photo by Linnea Covington

Recently, Amos and his wife, Jessica McCabe-Watts, had just started movement on a new permanent home for The Fifth String just off Colfax. Now, the future of that spot has yet to be determined. Afterall, how do you open a restaurant without its soul? Amos was, and is, the very heart of the operation.

Personally, I really got to know Amos back in 2018 while covering chefs at farmers’ markets for Westword. Amos, who was in charge of the Corrida kitchen at the time, instantly felt like an old buddy as we joked inbetween picking produce and munching on peaches. Damn he was funny. By the end of the day, we were friends, and have been so ever since. Every time I saw Amos or chatted on the phone we ribbed each other, but also had long conversations about food, the climate of restaurants, what he was doing, and how proud he was of his family, Loren, Sloane, and Jess.

Once, when I stopped in with one of Local Table Tours’ restaurant crawls, he snuck me Hot Wheels for my boys. There was a pile of them for the kids dining at The Fifth String. It was just another touch showcasing how dedicated he was to his customers. After wowing the group with the perfect scallop and spiced cauliflower, he took them on a tour of the kitchen. They felt special and he was so proud of what he had made. They loved it, and him. Not only was he a presence, but he showcased food, technique, and joy for the industry like no other. And while Amos could goof around and show that fun, silly side, he was serious about the dishes he created.

amos watts at market
Always a jokester! | Photo by Linnea Covington

It may be cliche to say he was a chef’s chef, but truly he was. After talking to many people who knew and loved Amos, clearly, I wasn’t the only one that had this sort of relationship. Amos was someone easy to like, for all the right reasons. Even for people he never professionally worked with. For example, chef Johnny Curiel of Alma Fonda Fina, who didn’t directly cook with him but admired him from the get go. 

“I am lucky I was able to come up under these badass guys, and even though I never worked under Amos, he was a badass [in size and how he cooked],” said Curiel, who first really got to know Amos while at Heritage Fire in Snowmass a few years ago. After winning at the event, said the chef, Amos encouraged him and basically told him Denver was lucky to have him. The connection continued on, and recently Amos helped Curiel with his chorizo. “I was talking to a peer, not just a boss, it was someone that wanted me to succeed and not just signing my paycheck.” 

That was who Amos was, a friend, a teacher, a chef, and a great hugger.

“I am going to miss a lot about my friend. I am going to miss learning from him the most,” wrote Russell Stippich, executive chef of Bar Dough, on Instagram. “I’ll miss walking down the block to talk shit and get a hug so hard it might crush your ribs but also always made you feel loved.”

three white people smiling
Alex Seidel, Linnea Covington, and Amos Watts at Bowl of Zole 2023. | Photo by Keven Galaba

For our own writer and event maven Gaby Reyes, who comically recalls Amos correcting her Spanish pronunciation of his name, hearing about Amos’ passing floored her.  

“In an industry that experiences its fair share of both triumphs and sorrows, the unexpected loss of such a beloved and respected man hits hard,” she said.  “I had the privilege of knowing Amos and loved when his name flashed on my phone screen during his occasional calls. Amos was a man of his craft and community, my thoughts and deepest sympathies extend to his family and dedicated staff.”

She also recalls phone calls with him where they talked about his recent recovery. After all, you could see on his face what happened last year after he had a tumor removed from the jaw area. The surgery caused paralysis on one side, drooping his mischievous smile. Still, it didn’t take away from his humor or dedication to The Fifth String. The last time I saw him during the 2024 Bowl of Zole I lovingly called him Scarface, a jest he chuckled at before giving me his signature bear hug. Despite the pain and trauma of that health ordeal, even then he joked and remained a pinnacle of joy and culinary education for so many. 

“To honor Amos is to pay it forward, to push those around you to unlock their hidden potential,” stated Bissell, who worked on-and-off with Amos at Old Major and Acorn, though now he resides in Oregon. “We can all grow through accountability, personal connection, and a healthy dose of humor, that is how we can continue to honor this man.”

Bissell was also the person who had posted about not all heroes wearing capes, and given the good Amos did, he is absolutely right. We will miss you my friend, you’re someone who truly can’t be replaced. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linnea Covington

Linnea Covington is the managing editor of DiningOut. She comes to us with a long background in food, restaurant and drinks journalism. Over the last two decades she’s written for tons of publications including Denver Post, Washington Post, Forbes Travel Guide, 5280 Magazine, New York Magazine, New York Times, Time Out New York and more.

More For You

May 24, 2024

Heard: A Bite of News Served on May 24

May 23, 2024

This Spring Lean Into Lovely Lavender All Around Denver

May 21, 2024

As Restaurants Change, Cafe Brazil Remains a Neighborhood Staple, For Now

May 21, 2024

5 Best Food + Drink Events in Denver This Week

Search

COPYRIGHT © 2009–2024, DININGOUT. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED