Inside the Inaugural Colorado Michelin Guide Ceremony

BY Steph Wilson

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All images by Marc Patrick/BFA

Colorado, we’ve officially been Michelin’d.

On Tuesday, September 12, 2023, the Michelin Guide Colorado launch took over Mission Ballroom to celebrate all things gourmand. 

Full disclosure: I legit squealed when I got the invite, having only half-joked that if I weren’t in the room, I’d be out front like a fan girl. Who doesn’t have a thing for chefs? But back to the real story:

Our state’s Michelin Guide was a long time coming. Here at DIningOut, we’ve been making the argument that Colorado’s worthy of worldwide acclaim for basically ever now, and it was gratifying to see the world catch up to what we already knew: our culinary scene is among the world’s best. And it’s only the eighth site in North America to earn such praise, joining New York, California, Florida, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Vancouver, and Toronto. 

The vibe at Mission Ballroom on Tuesday was one of pure indulgence, as bottles popped, bubbles flowed, and caviar bumps were had by all. And turns out, how you took those bumps distinguished the chefs from the civilians. The professional gods of the kitchen opted to take their bumps straight from their hands—no need to dirty a spoon. We were there in the thick of it, live-streaming the ceremony on our Insta as the stars of the Colorado culinary scene were revealed. 

We were right up in the thick of it, streaming the ceremony live on the @diningoutmagazine Instagram, which you can still catch on our profile. But in case you don’t want to watch the whole thing, here’s what you need to know:

The night’s biggest winner: ID Est Hospitality, led by Kelly Whitaker. All of his restaurants earned accolades and praise—even his latest one, Hey Kiddo, got a spot on Michelin’s Recommended list, and if you’ve heard us go on and on about the Tennyson hot spot, you already know we are huge fans. Obsessed, even. 

The Michelin Guide whet Coloradans’ appetite for its praise in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s ceremony, releasing the list of Bib Gourmands on Aug. 29. The 9 Bib Gourmands joining the MICHELIN Guide Colorado 2023 offer distinctive flavors with unbelievable value. Those restaurants include AJ’s Pit Bar-B-Q, Ash’Kara [full disclosure: DiningOut’s big dude in charge Jeff Suskin is a partner in Ash’Kara], Glo Noodle House, Hop Alley, La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal, Mister Oso, Tavernetta, The Ginger Pig, and Basta (a Kelly Whitaker joint). 

Five restaurants were awarded One-MICHELIN-Star, with Brutø and The Wolf’s Tailor clinching not just a star, but a MICHELIN Green Star as well—the Oscar and the Golden Globe, if you will. An impressive roster of 44 eateries graced the selection, from the acclaimed to the undiscovered.

Why is the Michelin Star such a big deal? More than a century after the guides began, Michelin is a watchword for excellence, exclusivity, and expense. I mean, even the 2007 Pixar film “Ratatouille” centers on a chef dying of heartbreak after his namesake restaurant loses a star. Michelin stars bring unmeasured joy when they’re rewarded — French chef Maxime Meilleur once compared earning his three stars to “winning the gold medal in the Olympics”.

So why Colorado—and why now? Known for having a rich culinary community rooted in established, notable chefs along with innovative upstarts, Colorado highlights technique and craft. Those flavors are thanks to a coupling of hyperlocal produce and ingredients, sourced sustainably, and the unique cultural influences of the region including German, Hispanic, and Native American cultures.

The Colorado restaurant selection follows Michelin’s historical way of making such selections, based on five universal criteria, to ensure each destination’s selection equity: 1) quality products; 2) the harmony of flavors; 3) the mastery of cooking techniques; 4) the voice and personality of the chef reflected in the cuisine; and 5) consistency between each visit and throughout the menu (each restaurant is inspected several times a year). 

As a quick history lesson, the Michelin Guide was first published in France in 1900 as an accompaniment to tire sales providing practical advice on where to dine and stay to local motorists. Michelin’s Inspectors still adhere to the same criteria and manner of selection used from launch, and apply them to destinations around the world. 

So which restaurants did Michelin deem worthy of its highest acclaim? We’ll let their inspectors take it from here: 

The Michelin Guide officially has made its debut in Colorado with five One-MICHELIN-Star establishments and four Michelin Green Star restaurants. The full selection, including Bib Gourmand restaurants and Recommended eateries, totals 44 restaurants. 

Brutø and The Wolf’s Tailor each were awarded one Michelin Star, plus a Michelin Green Star.

Here are the new One-Michelin-Star restaurants, with inspector notes from each (Inspectors’ comments in full on the Michelin Guide website and mobile app):

One Michelin Star

Beckon (Denver; Contemporary cuisine)

More than just a name, it’s an ethos at this ambitious RiNo dining room from Chef Duncan Holmes where staff warmly welcome you. Once inside this Scandi-cool space, diners pull up a chair at the 18-seat counter facing the kitchen where a focused team is hard at work. The multicourse contemporary tasting menu rotates quarterly (think harvest-themed in the fall). This kitchen offers far from typical dishes. Seared quail breast with a confit leg is spot on, especially when sided by creamed kale made with sunflower seeds and a quail reduction.

Bosq (Aspen; Contemporary cuisine)    

At this singular enclave, Chef Barclay Dodge and his team are executing seasonally inspired cooking that focuses on foraging, fermenting, and local farms. The menu format allows diners to customize their own tasting of four or more courses. From hand-picked spruce tips to butter from locally sourced cooperative dairy cows, this is a concept that pays attention to details — even ingredients from farther afield, like lobster from New England, get a hit of local flavor from being grilled over juniper wood.

Brutø (Denver; Mexican/Contemporary cuisine)

Chef Michael Diaz de Leon runs the show here, where the team takes a serious approach to locality and seasonality, not only in the produce but also in the grains, which they mill or nixtamalize in-house. The mastery of the hearth as the primary cooking implement makes this operation special, and it infuses each of the tasting menu’s courses with distinct notes. The menu, which is Mexican at its core, has a clear narrative and is perhaps best displayed in lamb prepared two ways — as a street-style taco and ground lamb leg kushiyaki with a quenelle of mole chichilo.

Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder; Italian cuisine)

All are treated as special guests here, where Chef Ian Palazzola’s cooking is Italian, but in a hyper-specific way: It’s the food of the northeast Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. You’ll find pasta and seafood on the prix fixe and tasting menus, but Slavic and Alpine elements also appear. Focused and distinct, the menu might showcase a lesser-known part of Italy, but the ingredients are clearly Coloradan. The plates are beguiling with a minimal, straightforward approach, as in cjalson, half-moon fresh spinach pasta pockets filled with an English pea and potato purée.

The Wolf’s Tailor (Denver; Contemporary cuisine)

With culinary stylings as singular as its name, this charmer stands apart from the pack. Chef Taylor Stark shepherds a creative multicourse menu that abounds with personality, boasting a unique, genre-defying style that draws variously from Nordic, Italian, and East Asian cuisines, but nonetheless feels focused and cohesive. Although the menu shifts throughout the year to explore different themes, diners will find a common thread in cooking that highlights ingredients while displaying technical precision and harmonious flavors, with fermentation a frequent motif.

Michelin Green Star

Blackbelly Market (Boulder; American cuisine)   

Initiatives: full utilization of every ingredient and animal, most of which are butchered in-house; sourcing from local ranches and farms that apply natural practices to everything they cultivate; herbs and flowers for plates grown on the property.

Bramble & Hare (Boulder; American cuisine)

Initiatives: organic farm with 70 acres growing more than 250 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and grain, which is ground into flour on a stone mill; an acre of chamomile for restaurant use; 360 acres of pasture for raising heritage sheep and pigs.

Brutø (Denver; Mexican/Contemporary cuisine)

Initiatives: zero-waste ethos; fermentation program to create umami-based ingredients; house-milled grains grown in Colorado; hyper-local sourcing; partnership with Zero Foodprint to help reduce carbon footprint and carbon emissions.

The Wolf’s Tailor (Denver; Contemporary cuisine)

Initiatives: zero-waste mentality; local apple cider vinegar project; recycling bread waste into sourdough gochujang; contract farming to grow heirloom wheat for flour on organic, regeneratively farmed land; on-site pollinator garden; certified sustainable foraging program.

Michelin Special Awards

Michelin Exceptional Cocktails Award: Caroline Clark at The Wolf’s Tailor (Denver)

Michelin Sommelier Award: Ryan Fletter and Erin Lindstone at Barolo Grill (Denver)

Michelin Outstanding Service Award: Sergei Kiefel and the front-of-house team at Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder)

Michelin Young Chef/Culinary Professional Award: Kelly Kawachi at Blackbelly Market (Boulder)

Michelin Recommended Restaurants 

A5 Steakhouse (Denver), Barolo Grill (Denver), Blackbelly Market (Boulder), Bramble & Hare (Boulder), Dio Mio (Denver), Dushanbe Tea House (Boulder), Element 47 (Aspen), Fruition (Denver), Guard and Grace (Denver), Hey Kiddo (Denver), Marco’s Coal Fired (Denver), Mawa’s Kitchen (Aspen), Mercantile Dining and Provision (Denver), Mirabelle (Beaver Creek), Noisette (Denver), Oak at Fourteenth (Boulder), Olivia (Denver), Osaki’s (Vail), Potager (Denver), Prospect (Aspen), Q House (Denver), Safta (Denver), Santo (Boulder), Smok (Denver), Smok (Denver), Spendido at the Chateau (Beaver Creek), Stella’s Cucina (Boulder), Sweet Basil (Vail), Temaki Den (Denver), Wyld (Avon), Zoe Ma Ma (Boulder) 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steph Wilson

Steph Wilson is a writer, editor, and creative maximalist in Denver. She makes magazines for a living and throws color around the world like confetti for fun.

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