How Koko Ni Turns Vegetables Into A Work Of Art

BY Linnea Covington

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Diners truly enjoy eating their greens when it comes to the omakase menu at Koko Ni in RiNo. Especially when that includes Mark’s Bouquet, a seasonal staple used to showcase the freshest greens, edible flowers, and herbs.

“My thing is showcasing what’s growing,” said James Gnizak, chef de cuisine at Koko Ni. “Plus, I always want people to eat their vegetables.”

Vegetables are the star of the dish and most of the plants featured come from Esoterra Culinary Garden. Run by Mark DeRespini, the Boulder County farm has grown from a bunch of hoop houses and into an operation beloved by chefs across the Front Range. Gnizak named the leafy item after the farmer, and it indeed looks and functions like an edible boutonniere.

chef in apron sitting and smiling
Chef James Gnizak of Koko Ni created Mark’s Bouquet, as well as the rest of the omakase menu. | Photo by Linnea Covington

The first layer of Mark’s Bouquet starts with a bright and impressive leaf of Tokyo bekana, a type of Napa cabbage lauded for a buttery flavor and crisp core. Next comes juicy ice lettuce from the succulent family, then golden chard. What follows consists of 18 more plant-based ingredients from flowers to house-pickled vegetables to lacy herbs. At the time of preparation, this included pickled daikon, miso green goddess, mizuna, orach, citrus begonia, bronze fennel, and more. The final two additions, salt and smoked trout roe, are the only non-plants in the whole dish. 

“Mark’s Bouquet will always be changing,” added the chef. “It’s the perfect way to be here, in the season, right now.”

When we documented the dish mid-April, the chef added 23 ingredients in total. The result was not only a vibrant artwork on the plate, but a blending of crunchy, sweet, floral, savory, green, and tart flavors. You eat the piece almost like a taco, folding the outer lettuce around the whole to make sure nothing escapes. After all, you will want to eat every bite.

Visit Koko Ni Wednesday to Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. 1441 26th St., Denver, eatkokoni.com

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.

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