Top Chef finally came to Denver, and shared with the rest of the world what locals have known for some time: we are not just a meat and potatoes town anymore.
If you’re like me, you’ve watched every season of the show and you’ve often dreamed of participating in one of these local events. So when the opportunity presented itself to be a part of a Top Chef challenge, you can bet that my colleague and I dropped everything to hightail it to Denver as quickly as possible. Waiting for the Top Chef Season 15, Episode 1 premiere has been agonizing to say the least, so when it aired last night I couldn’t wait to relive the event, and most importantly, see what the judges thought of the same food my colleague and I had the privilege to try.
Featured in Larimer Square, a historic block of Denver dating back to the 1800s, the first challenge of Top Chef Season 15 tasked chefs with developing a modern take on the humble, meat and potatoes. Like previous seasons, Top Chef Denver contestants included a mix of local and out-of-state talent. Some might say that the locals had an edge in this challenge—let’s find out.
Given the challenge, it was no surprise to see a lot of tartare on the menu. Thankfully, both my colleague and I enjoy a good tartare, so whether it was beef or lamb, we were all in. Paired with a potato chip (meat and potatoes challenge after all), it was a nice bite. But it was nice, several times over. Tartare is great way to take this “modern” approach to Colorado meat and potatoes, but those in Colorado know that we are much more than just potato chips and tartare too.
One of our favorite dishes came from local Colorado Chef, Chef Brother Luck of Four by Brother Luck. Foraging juniper berries in the nearby mountains and sourcing local Colorado honey and lamb, the purple potato puree with lamb and goat cheese had bright flavors, complimentary textures and gave you all the Colorado feels. If you wanted to experience Colorado in a single bite, that was it.
Our other favorite included local Chef Carrie Baird from Bar Dough, who gave us a satisfyingly rich Braised Beef Short Rib with Russet Potato Chip and Lemon Goat Cheese. The short rib had developed delicious flavors that kept us wanting more—and sorry Tom, but our potato chips rocked! Though Carrie was in the bottom for this episode, we’re still rooting for our local chef and we know we’ll see much more amazing food from her this season!
Chef Fatima Ali’s Braised Chicken, Potato and Pea Samosa with Tamarind Beet and Plum Sauce was chock full of flavor in every bite. Clearly the most creative take on “meat and potatoes,” we loved how harmoniously the flavors worked together and so did the judges. Confession, we may have had seconds too.
And from all the tartares, it was Chef Joe Sasto’s beef tartare with potato and fermented shiitake, seaweed and “crumble rumble” that we felt had a lot of complex flavors that we couldn’t pin on the spot (but it sure tasted good). While he didn’t share what his “Crumble Rumble” was at the time, he thankfully shared that morsel with Tom (PS, that “Crumble Rumble” consist of fried onion, yeast and potato flakes).
Perhaps unsurprisingly so, the food event felt like any other food event. The cameras, while present, blend into the background. No scripts, just eat and drink. For my colleague and I, the first challenge in Larimer Square had everything you could ask for.
Great food? Check.
Top Chef judges? Check.
Enthusiastic diners who love food as much as you? Check.
Lots of waste? Check, check.
The single-use plastic plates, bowls and utensils which were thrown into black trash bags scattered throughout the event might not have seemed odd to a tourist, but to Colorado residents it was as noticeable as a solid 5 days of cloudy weather (we do like to brag about 300 days of sunshine per year).
Single-use products make outdoor events particularly susceptible to large amounts of waste, and this first challenge was no different. That’s why many events in Colorado feature “zero-waste” stations, and work with local purveyors (like Tundra Restaurant Supply!) to source compostable disposable options that, when composted in a commercial composting facility turn back into soil. Pretty cool, huh?
New 3-bin systems include a recyclable and compostable collection alongside their landfill counterpart to encourage individuals to sort their waste through more sustainable streams. In fact, some events have gone so far as to skip the landfill bin completely, because everything at the event (down to the “plastic” fork, is compostable). In fact, the 3-bin system is now a part of the Boulder legislation as the city aims to generate new materials from 85% waste by the year 2025. That’s why on your visit to Colorado you’ve probably seen the 3-bin system present not only at events, but in restaurants, hotels and even the airport.
Spend just a day in Colorado and you realize that this state is unlike any other. Our chefs are like stewards of the land, sourcing responsibly and locally, and educating diners on our food system. We hope Top Chef Denver shares with the rest of the world what we already know—Colorado kicks ass.