Denver Rocks the Culinary Casbah

Our contributor takes a food tour of Denver

Pam Grout
Pam Grout
Denver has a surprising food scene.

It has been two months, three days, and 16 hours since I took part in a Culinary Connectors tour in Denver, and I still wake up in a fevered sweat dreaming about Max MacKissock’s smoked beets with grain, sorrel, and yogurt. He’s the chef (or Cuisine Bean, as the Bean Team calls him) at The Squeaky Bean, one of three restaurants featured the night I took Culinary Connector’s "Top Restaurant" tour.

I have Becky Creighton to thank (or perhaps to curse, since, as I said, I’ve been unable to think of much else) for introducing me to Max, currently on a Food & Wine list of the country’s top new chefs.

Creighton is the owner/creator of this three-hour tour, one of several she offers through the company she started five years ago, and not only did I get the opportunity to swoon over MacKissock’s fresh, innovative dishes that treat plants (Squeaky Bean owns six garden beds and an organic farm called the Bean Acre) like movie stars, but I got to meet him and his crazy partner, Johnny Ballen, who produced a hilarious video spoof of what they called "the bionic restaurant" that sprang back to life in June 2012.

The Squeaky Bean, which took root in 2009 in Denver’s Highland neighborhood in a ridiculously tiny space, was never hurting for fans or customers. But it occurred to the partners that if MacKissock was able to work that kind of magic in that handkerchief-sized kitchen, just think what might be possible in a former saddlery building in LoDo with three times the space.

Let’s just say Annie Sullivan (she’s the miracle-worker who taught Helen Keller to read and write) has nothing on MacKissock. And getting to meet him and the other star chefs on Creighton’s culinary tours was a highlight of my trip to Denver, like meeting the reclusive artist who painted your favorite painting. Or running into Brad Pitt in an elevator.

Creighton, who worked in tech for 10 years before shooting off in a completely different tangent, was burnt out, fed up, and "hated going to my job every morning." She went to Sedona with a journal (don’t we all?) and with a glass of wine in hand, set out to design a job she would love.



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