Sep 15, 2023 - News

What the Michelin Guide means for Colorado's dining scene

Chefs who received a Michelin star on stage during the Colorado Michelin Guide at Mission Ballroom in Denver on Tuesday. Photo: Courtesy of Marc Patrick/BFA.com

Chef Michael Diaz de Leon gripped the clear, clover-shaped trophy in disbelief.

Driving the news: Moments earlier, Denver's Brutø, where he serves as executive chef, had been awarded a Michelin star — one of five restaurants in the state to earn the coveted honor in the first Michelin Colorado Guide unveiled Tuesday.

Why it matters: Chefs we spoke to felt thrilled about the recognition while recognizing the honor comes with additional demand to not just continue excelling, but to innovate.

What they're saying: "I think this is just going to create a really nice sense of excitement for guests to come in," Diaz de Leon, whose restaurant specializes in contemporary and Mexican food, told us immediately following the awards ceremony.

  • "I hope we can live up to that."

State of play: Colorado is now in rarified air. It's just the sixth location in the United States to have its own Michelin Guide, alongside places like California, Chicago and New York.

Context: Tourism boards in Denver, Boulder and Aspen paid between $70,000 and $100,000 for the opportunity to be considered for the stars. Three Denver restaurants got stars, while Boulder and Aspen had one restaurant each.

  • Having to pay doesn't take away from the "achievement" of getting a star, Colorado Restaurant Association & Foundation spokesperson Denise Mickelsen told us.

Of note: Chef Kelly Whitaker owns Brutø and The Wolf's Tailor, another restaurant that received a Michelin star. He told us his kitchen work was always about improving the state's culinary scene, not earning stars.

  • He expects Brutø, with its 15-seat capacity, to face higher demand. But he believes the eatery in Denver's Union Station neighborhood can handle it.

Meanwhile, ensuring continued recognition from the guide will mean being more creative and refined, Mawa's Kitchen owner and executive chef Mawa McQueen tells us. Her Afro-Mediterranean restaurant in Aspen earned a recommendation, but not a star.

  • "Now I'm going to reach for the star," McQueen tells us.

The intrigue: Mickelsen said the guide could become a recruiting tool for a local restaurant industry struggling to hire and retain staff, since it brings a "global spotlight" to the region.

  • She notes the labor shortage predated the pandemic, which led to both job losses and restaurant closings.

Between the lines: Chef Jose Avila says after his Mexican restaurant on Larimer Street, La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal, got a Bib Gourmand nod last month, sales grew by 40% and wait times grew from roughly 45 minutes to two hours.

What's next: Mickelsen says anonymous Michelin inspectors will continue visiting local restaurants. She anticipates the guide will continue to expand to add more eateries.

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