Chef Bradford Heap’s passion for cuisine is obvious and infectious to anyone who engages him in a conversation about food. When I asked him about one of his dishes I saw him prepping, he talked with almost evangelical fervor about the “bean eaters of Tuscany” and how they create healthy and flavorful dishes using simple, local ingredients.
You might even say that Bradford’s entire worldview was shaped by his early years learning and honing his culinary skills. At age 27 he attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York. After graduating with honors, he was hired at the legendary L’Orangerie Restaurant in Hollywood where it was common to see celebrities such as Farrah Fawcett and Sidney Poitier who would stop by for a meal.
The freshness of the French cuisine made an impression on him and after spending some time learning from Gary Danko in California’s wine country he decided to head to France.
“I saved $7,000 for the trip in 1992”, says Bradford.” “I bought a Trek Mountain Bike that I brought with me as well as a backpack full of cookbooks.” Since he is more than six feet in height, he mused that the locals were probably wondering about this tall American on a bicycle with a heavy backpack riding around town.
After finding employment at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco and creating dishes like white truffle risotto, he became fascinated with how fresh ingredients could be used to prepare unpretentious, yet delicious meals. He also liked learning how to marry French and Italian cooking techniques.
During his time spent in Europe, he was fortunate to have worked with some three Michelin-starred chefs such as Georges Blanc in the Burgundy region of France. “I also learned about artistic plating and great vegetable cooking,” says Bradford with pride. All the while, he was formulating what would become his overall philosophy which centered, once again, about the elemental basics of quality ingredients.
After cycling all around the European countryside, he returned to Boulder in 1993 where he worked at the Pearl Street Inn and as executive chef and owner at Chautauqua Dining Hall and the highly Zagat-rated Full Moon Grill.
Feeling that the timing was right to jump into his own venture, Bradford created COLTERRA Restaurant, in nearby Niwot. Here he applied his French and Northern Italian cooking techniques using his organic garden and locally sourced ingredients.
Then, in 2009, an opportunity presented itself when the iconic Tom’s Tavern building became available. Bradford remembers sitting down with the realtor who asked him if he “had the money,” for such an investment. “Oh yeah,” he said, all the while not knowing where the money was going to come from. Somehow, all the stars lined up and working with his interior designer he gutted the building and in September, opened SALT in downtown Boulder.
Bradford now is free to create his own versions of healthy cuisine based on his vast experience. He uses fresh ingredients from local farmers and Non-GMO meats that are pasture finished, a step beyond just “pasture raised.”
“Food shouldn’t just be about taste,” he says, but “be healthy, too.” Judging by his initial success, it seems that Boulder residents agree. “It’s all about honoring the ingredient,” says Bradford, who still loves making Fagoli Arrosta, based his experience with the bean eaters of Tuscany.
A version of this story was originally published on iseeigo.