You can’t work at a restaurant supply company and not be well acquainted with the products you sell. We love to cook, but more importantly, we love to eat.
And when you’re presented with an invitation to Restaurant Wars, you accept!
Hosted at Mile High Station in Denver, Colorado, my colleague, Rachel Shaw, and I were shuttled to a waiting area where we sat until our reservation was called (it is a restaurant, after all). The whole process felt so top secret I mustered just enough courage to snap one blurry and poorly lit selfie of us.
When called for our seating, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we would be on the Grey team, made up of Joseph Flamm (working the front of house), Carrie Baird, Bruce Kalman and Adrienne Cheatham (Bruce and Adrienne both shopped at Tundra for supplies and we had a nice talk about our Tundra dog calendar (so you know, we’re totally BFFs now).
After getting the run down from show producers, we entered “Conifer.” The name itself, of course, is derived from the local vegetation here in Colorado. Conifer, as Chef Joseph tells my colleague and I, not only describes a tree but a group of trees, making it a nice, symbolic representation of the group of chefs cooking for us this evening. We admired the organic design elements, brass accents, and of course, we both immediately recognized the stemless wine glasses they picked up at Tundra—repurposed to be elegant water glasses! Aside from the obviously present camera equipment which hovered over the tables slowly and silently throughout the course of the evening, there was little else that made you feel you were somewhere other than a restaurant.
Seated at a lovely table towards the center of the room, we eagerly reviewed the menu and both agreed that Rachel made a wise decision earlier this year when she decided to eat meat again after 4 years of being a vegetarian. The menu had a nice mix of meat, fish and vegetables—a deliberate intention we’d later discover upon watching the episode. All of the dishes looked approachable; there was nothing too crazy on there and yet everything looked delicious and inviting. Knowing that we’d want to taste as many dishes as possible, we both decided to order different items with the intent to share throughout the meal.
First up, Course 1.
Hiramasa Crudo | Diced cucumber, pickled green almonds, neonata oil
Chef Joseph Flamm
I’m a sucker for crudos, which is ironic because I really dislike cooked fish. You may ask yourself how original or unique could a crudo really be? It was delicious, but have I had delicious crudos before? Sure. Unaware of what “neonata” was, I assumed it was some kind of olive variety made into an oil because I couldn’t detect much of anything else. Wrong. I’d later learn that neonata is a condiment made from infant fish that have a “jelly-like consistency thanks to their soft young bones.” Ignorance served me well here, because had I known what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have ordered the dish.
Pork Meatball & Polenta | Braised pork meatball with polenta, amatriciana sauce, parmigiana reggiano, & house giardiniera. Toasted bread to finish
Chef Bruce Kalman
It might not have been the most innovative dish we’ve seen on a menu, but we’re still thinking about that sizeable meatball and polenta. That’s a dish you could eat again and again and never get tired of it. Both of us agreed that despite its generous size, we probably could’ve eaten 2 or 3 right then and there.
Red Pepper Orecchiette | Lamb sausage, fava beans, pea & fava shoots
Chef Bruce Kalman
The episode was filmed in Spring, so I was excited to see ingredients like pea shoots on this dish. Each ingredient was delicious separately and together, making this a solid 💯 for me.
Roasted Duck Breast | Corn purée, roasted apricots & duck jus
Chef Joseph Flamm
I mentioned before that my colleague was just transitioning from being a vegetarian (and prior to that she was a vegan), so I was impressed to see that she went all in for the 2nd course. Given that this might have been the first duck she’s eaten—ever—she didn’t have much to compare it too…but she said it was damn delicious. And the judges agreed!
Lemon Curd | Sugar cookie and mint gelée
Chef Carrie Baird
So often I find that dessert is a throwaway course, but not at Conifer. The presentation of Chef Carrie’s deconstructed lemon tart was a fresh and whimsical take on this classic dessert. It also tasted delicious too. My spoon scraped up as much of that gelée and curd that it could without fear of leaving marks on the china.
Caramelized White Chocolate Buttermilk Cake | Crème fraîche ice cream
Chef Adrienne Cheatham
This cake was good. Really good. I wish we could speak to the nuance of what actually went into the dessert (thankfully they cover that in the episode), but at the time all we could say was “YUMMY” over and over again.
Not only was every dish on point, but the service was too. Chef Joseph’s hospitality was present in his leadership; our glasses were always full, the staff was personable, and when we requested the addition of candles on our table (a noticeably absent centerpiece) no one batted an eye. It looks like the team’s prep-heavy/easy execution strategy worked to their favor in this challenge. And since Rachel and I saw a little behind-the-scenes collaboration on their needs and menu beforehand while they shopped at Tundra, it was exciting to see everything come together to form a great restaurant concept.
Since dining on Restaurant Wars, the two biggest questions I’ve been asked are, “Is the food as good as they say?” and “Did your opinion of the food align with the judges?”
Short answer? Yes, and yes.
It was nice to see that our opinions of the dishes aligned closely to those of the judges, if only for validation that perhaps we had the chops to become reality TV food judges one day (it’s never too late to consider a career change, right?).