Meet the Chefs
At the 10th Annual Cherry Creek North Food & Wine, 21 restaurants and specialty food providers will showcase their innovative culinary offerings to hundreds of hungry attendees. Below, learn a little more about the chefs behind the delicious dishes and why they love being a part of the Cherry Creek North dining scene.
801 Fish - Opening Fall 2018
Executive Chef Dan Larson
Born and raised in Minnesota, Dan Larson attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Looking for a change, he made his way to Denver and worked as the Sous Chef at The OceanAire Seafood Room downtown for several years. He moved over to 801 Restaurant Group and has been working as the Executive Chef of 801 Chophouse in Cherry Creek for more than three years. His true passion is seafood and is excited to take on the challenge of taking the helm of 801 Fish, which opens later this year.
For the past eight years, Aviano Coffee owners Douglas and Saadia Naiman have been serving up craft coffee in an elegant, inviting atmosphere that allows your seasonal brew to be the focal point of a true culinary experience. "We brought craft coffee to the area for people to enjoy coffee as a culinary experience–introducing people to different varietals of coffee, farms, a whole different coffee sourcing and a different roast," says Saadia Naiman.
What happens when you take America’s most classic cuisine – the hamburger – and turn it up a notch? At Bad Daddy's Burger Bar, the humble hamburger is given superstar status. Bad Daddy’s inspired recipes respect the basic necessities of what makes a burger a burger, yet also shoot for the moon with unexpected culinary twists. The premium Angus Beef is topped with housemade sauces, dressings, and dips from their scratch kitchen. Want to skip the beef? Bad Daddy’s has it all with turkey, bison, chicken, a house made black bean burger, and a house ground tuna burger.
Chef Owner Sean Huggard
Sean Huggard grew up in New England, spending much of his youth in Cape Cod. He went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America and spent summers working as a chef on Nantucket Island at an oceanfront restaurant. His goal for Blue Island was to recreate similar relationships with those coastal fisheries to bring quality sourced, traditional New England seafood to Colorado to create a "dish-to-dock" experience that's often difficult to find in landlocked areas.
But the question remains, how does he like his oysters? "Usually plain, but I like to mix it up a bit," says Huggard. "The shuckers make great mignonettes here, which is a vinegar-based sauce." He notes that they are always trying new toppings ideas, and ordering off the fresh fish list is always a good idea.
Chef Owner Marshall Miranda
Food brings people together, and Marshall Miranda had an appreciation for communal dining from his early days growing up on India's western coast. Now a Cherry Creek resident and independent business owner, Miranda has perfected his traditional Indian offerings, which range from mellow curries to tangy, melt-in-your-mouth tandoori chicken that can be customized for any palate. Patrons can expect to experience a chic Eastern ambience with an inviting indoor-outdoor space, all while supporting a family-run business.
"It has been great to be part of this community that gathers around the food and hospitality that we offer, and my kids are learning firsthand how business is built on relationships," says Miranda. "And, of course, the connection to their culture through food is a lesson that is very meaningful. A family-owned business—especially a restaurant—is not an easy endeavor, but it’s fun because you are in it together."
General Manager Gavin Berry
Gavin Berry is general manager of Del Frisco’s Grille, located in the prestigious Cherry Creek North neighborhood. Del Frisco’s Grille combines prime cut steaks, modern inviting ambiance, top notch service and an award winning wine list. With his direction over the last two years, Del Frisco’s Grille has become one of Cherry Creek’s premier restaurant destinations. Gavin has directly overseen several concepts in the Denver metro area and really draws passion from the elevated aspects of dining at Del Frisco’s Grille.
Berry’s interests outside of the hospitality industry really peak with family and community involvement. Berry is involved with several charities including A Precious Child, Mile High Charities and the Morgan Adams Foundation. Berry was honored to receive the 2016 Community Leader of the year representing the Cherry Creek Chamber of Commerce. He and his wife are raising three young daughters and really revel in all that Colorado has to offer.
Executive Chef Khamla Vongsakoun
Executive Chef Khamla Vongsakoun brings over 15 years of experience to Denver’s Departure Denver, flaunting his nuanced mastery of Pan-Asian cuisine. The chef embraces the traditional roots of Departure’s dishes, modernizing them through technique and presentation while preserving cultural authenticity. Street fare, classic staples, sushi, and more flow from Vongsakoun’s kitchen with grace and wisdom developed through experience in hotel dining and alongside legendary chefs.
Vongsakoun’s career took off in 1997, when he traded Colorado wilderness for Las Vegas glamour, joining Rio Suites Hotel, Casino, and Spa as sous chef for the upscale Buzio’s Seafood Restaurant and, later, for the property’s Cajun-themed Voodoo Café, supporting the kitchens of the hotel’s five restaurants plus its pool, employee dining, and banquet facility. After six years in Vegas, Vongsakoun relocated to the East Coast, starting as sous chef for the Metropolitan Café in Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel, Casino, and Spa and eventually earning a promotion to executive banquet chef by mid-2004. In 2006, Vongsakoun ascended within the property yet again, joining Michael Mina, a James Beard Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America inductee, to open Seablue.
Vongsakoun first mastered Far East cooking techniques as sous chef for Stephen Starr’s Buddakan, a contemporary Asian restaurant in Philadelphia. Opting to focus his career on the region, Vongsakoun soon found himself executive chef for Michael Schulson’s Sampa, which earned a spot among Bon Appétit’s “Top 6 Best New Modern Asian Restaurants 2011” during his tenure. He subsequently worked as executive chef at Kittichai, a modern Thai restaurant within the boutique 60 Thompson Hotel in SoHo. Following Kittichai, Vongsakoun worked at Chelsea’s Tao Downtown, a trendy Pan-Asian restaurant with over $30 million in annual revenue.
Now back on his home turf, the chef’s acutely honed Asian specialty, proven in high-volume restaurants, finds an inspiring home within the kitchen of Departure Cherry Creek, where he prepares genuinely rooted and artfully plated Pan-Asian dishes.
Linda and Rick Enstrom
For four generations, the Enstrom family of Grand Junction, Colorado has crafted their almond toffee by hand, to the delight of connoisseurs the world over. Linda and Rick Enstrom, who operate the Cherry Creek location, have continued on Rick's grandfather's company alongside his sister and her family for the last 45 years that has expanded to sell coffee, pastries and other sweets.
"You will find that all of our staff have been here for a long time, and we take good care of them because we like to train them and keep them around," says Rick Enstrom. "It’s a family business, so we like having people who can represent the family and know the family. I think part of our allure is that we’re a Colorado family business of four generations."
The name Hapa is derived from the Hawaiian term that describes a harmonious blend of Asian and American cultures. Like the name, Hapa's food reflects this dynamic combination. The menu is based on traditional Japanese cooking fundamentals which are then amplified, muted or mixed with influences from many different styles of cooking until they are something new: they’re Hapa. Chefs stretched the boundaries of creativity to develop dishes that defy all rules while holding true to their roots. The “Hapa Experience” is innovative, uninhibited, and distinctly fun!
Head Chef Nate Heartman
While living in Los Angeles, Nate Heartman became a chef about 8 years ago. He quickly progressed to Executive Chef and ran his first restaurant at age 28. He then went on to become that restaurant group's Corporate Chef, traveling the country to help oversee the opening of eight new restaurants. After deciding to take a step back, work a few less hours, and enjoy life a little more, he landed in Denver with Hedge Row in Cherry Creek. "I enjoy the Colorado lifestyle and being a part of the Cherry Creek community," says Heartman.
Head Chef MAHA-Dev
Chef MAHA-Dev is bringing his passion for Indian food with a British flair to Denver. After starting out in London in 1996 at various Indian restaurants, he brought his experience and passion to create an exciting menu at Mehak India's Aroma, full of aromatic spices and high quality ingredients that infuse the Indian fine dining cuisine with a modern and upscale twist. With his hands-on style, diners can be confident knowing he will be involved in almost every dish served at Mehak.
Chef Efrain Corral
Since its founding in 1995, Piatti ensures a unique experience that's suited to it's surroundings. Chef Efrain Corral prepares house made pasta and utilizes premium Italian and Colorado bounty from local farmers, ranchers and artisan producers whenever possible to bring you the very best ingredients. He personalizes the menu to meet the needs and desires of Piatti's guests. Like its European inspiration, Piatti restaurant is intended to be part of the community.
Executive Chef BJ Wojtowicz
Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania, Robert “BJ” Wojtowicz fell in love with the culinary world at a young age. Working as a dishwasher at the age of 14 to make extra spending money, Wojtowicz knew that working in a restaurant wasn’t just an after-school job and he always had the confidence that he’d lead his own kitchen some day. He graduated from Denver’s Johnson and Wales University and began working for one of the city’s most well respected chefs, Kevin Taylor, at Hotel Teatro. In 2009, he moved to the West Coast to become the Chef de Partie at Napa Valley’s celebrated The French Laundry where he specialized in making charcuterie from whole animals.
After returning home to Pennsylvania to work as the Executive Chef of Connor’s Grillroom, Wojtowiczre located to New York City to become a sous chef at Eleven Madison Park. It was at Eleven Madison Park, named the best restaurant in the world from San Pellegrino in 2017, that he had the opportunity to sharpen his skills in all aspects of the restaurant: running small intimate dining experiences for various celebrities and VIPs, participating as part of the creative team for menu recipe and cookbook development, and managing a team of over 60 cooks. After four years, he moved to Denver for family and friends and his extensive experience in fine dining led him to use his deep knowledge of food, flavors, and his way around a fast-paced kitchen to earn the position of Executive Chef at Quality Italian Denver. Wojtowicz lives in Lowry with his girlfriend and when he’s not in the kitchen, he loves to hang out with his dog and cat, Piper and Harry.
Executive Chef Randall Baldwin
Executive Chef Randall Baldwin brings more than 15 years of Colorado culinary experience to the JW Marriott Denver. A graduate of the Art Institute of Denver, he previously served as the Executive Chef at The Westin Snowmass Resort, the Snowmass Club, The Artisan Restaurant at the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass and the Limelight Hotel in Aspen.
Executive Chef Deborah Schneider
Deborah Schneider is Executive Chef & Partner of the award-winning SOL Mexican Cocina restaurants, currently with four locations in California, Arizona and Colorado focusing on the best in contemporary and traditional Mexican cuisine. She has travelled widely in Mexico, and is the author of eight cookbooks that explore her fascination with Mexican food and culture: The Mexican Instant Pot (coming October 2018), Salsas & Moles, The Mexican Slow Cooker, Amor y Tacos and Baja! Cooking on the Edge (an adventurous trip through the foods and wines of Baja California, chosen by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the best cookbooks of the year.) She was nominated for a James Beard Award for Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta. She is co-author of Williams Sonoma Essentials of Latin Cooking and Rustic Mexican.
Head Chef Daniel Ramirez
Daniel Ramirez started his career as a chef in 1994, in Southern California at Trilussa, a renowned Italian restaurant. For 10 years, he studied under the supervision of Italian chefs who prepared dishes with traditional Italian methods and recipes.
After moving to Denver, Ramirez continued his passion for Italian cooking with head chef positions at Pagliacci’s and Gaetano’s restaurant. He ventured into American cuisine at Mead St. Station, where he started perfecting his burger recipes. As the head chef of the Cherry Cricket, he works to make the best appetizers, sides, entrees and of course, burgers you can get in all of Denver.
Chef Casey Johnson
Casey Johnson has been working in restaurants since he was 14 years old. He had 7 years of management experience with Rock Bottom and Famous Dave's before joining Thirsty Lion as Sous Chef at Union Station in May 2015. Johnson earned a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts from University of Colorado, Boulder. His hobbies include figuring out how things work and building them from scratch. Recently, he had to repair the barn wall that the donkey's ate so they could escape. Chef Brodie Campbell describes him as a top-notch chef who brings boatloads of strength to the table.
Executive Chef Chase Wilbanks
Chase Wilbanks started his career at the age of 14 by washing dishes. He soon moved his way up to food preparation and fell in love with the hospitality industry. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in 2002, he moved to Vail and became the executive chef for La Tour restaurant, a fine dining French concept that has been a staple in the Vail valley for over 40 years. After five years in Vail, he moved back to Denver to join Fox Restaurant Concepts and work as a chef at North Italia for three years, followed by five years as Executive Chef at Shanahan’s Steakhouse. Wilbanks is very excited to be a part of True Food Kitchen and deliver the highest level of hospitality and an unparalleled guest experience in Cherry Creek.
Growing up learning to identify unique distinctions in taste, Victoria Shearer has always had a special interest in the culinary arts. Prior to her role as chocolatier for Victoria’s Chocolates, Shearer first pursued her love of working with flavors professionally when she became a Chef Instructor at Cook Street School of Fine Cooking, from which she graduated in October of 2000.
Shearer has since paired her extensive background in both culinary and fine arts with her natural ability in the kitchen to create not just beautiful but quality confections and showpieces. With the complementary title of Certified Chef of Wine Arts, Shearer also enjoys leading small intimate gatherings through adventurous pairings of chocolate, wine and spirits. For her, it’s more than flavor combinations and intricate designs, it’s about bringing people together and allowing them to accept just a little more beauty in their lives each day.