"For me, cooking and restaurants are all about relationships. I love cooking for people. There's something special that connects you to your diners when they really enjoy your food, and I love the people that I get to be around when I'm working in the kitchen.
I studied engineering, but I fell in love with cooking at an early age. I was fortunate enough to be on Top Chef, and when I won it, that opened up a lot of doors for me.
I spent a lot of time traveling and had one particular ‘Aha!’ moment while in California. I met this husband and wife who were catering a party for a bunch of us chefs.
I was just so impressed by the whole operation, and it was all distilled in this big batch of rice and beans and pork. They were cooking things that they had raised on their own farm - the beans were an heirloom variety that they had grown, the sausage was made from pigs that they had raised. I remember thinking:
‘That's what I want to do. I want to know where all my food comes from. I want to be involved in raising animals and growing produce, harvesting it, cooking it, and serving it to people. That work makes me a better chef and gives me a deeper connection to the food."
“We nearly opened another Blackbelly in Denver. We had a site figured out and were in lease negotiations, but something wasn't really sitting right in my gut. I didn’t have any particular reason for pulling out of the deal, other than it just didn’t feel right.
So I started thinking, ‘Alright, so what are we going to do now?’ Literally that same week I got a call about the space that's now Santo. It's just such a fantastic location, such a cool interior with great windows, great views and a great patio. I just love it, and I jumped at it.
I didn’t have a business plan, didn’t have a name, didn’t have the money…didn’t really have anything other than knowing that this is the type of food that's in my soul.
I'd always wanted to do a traditional, meets modern, meets farm-to-table New Mexican restaurant, and now was the time.
From signing the lease to opening the restaurant took four months, so we were flying. But it's food I grew up eating - I knew what the menu should be. Santo is rooted in my food memory, and Blackbelly is more what I love most about being a chef.”
My Santo Must Order
“Our Stacked Blue Corn Enchiladas. We buy the tortillas from my friend who is growing an heirloom variety of single blue corn, thought to be lost for hundreds of years. We're getting this amazing tortilla that no one else has access to. Then, of course, the green chili is a big part of it. It becomes this New Mexican style stacked enchilada, which is almost like a lasagna where it’s layers of tortilla, cheese, chili and a protein like chicken."
The Best Advice I’ve Received
“I met Jaques Pépin and he told me, ‘Always cook with your heart and not with your head.’ A lot of chefs make the mistake where they start over-thinking what they're doing. With Santo, this is very much soul food. It's simple. It’s all about the flavors. We’re cooking with our hearts, and the flavor is what's paramount.”
What I Love Most about Boulder
“The environment. I can ski, mountain bike, hike and fly fish all right out my front door. Living in a place that is so connected to the outdoors is really important me."
My Boulder Musts
"I’d get a really good espresso at either OZO or Boxcar Coffee. Then a short bike-ride or run up the Boulder Creek Loop, then hit up Avery Brewing for some beers and go out to dinner at a spot like my restaurant, Blackbelly, or BASTA, Oak or Arcana. It’s got to be one of those spots.”