Colorado chef making national splash


Chef Kelly Liken

• Head of her class at Culinary Institute of America.

•  Listed in Bon Appetite magazine in 2008 in an story featuring “Woman Chefs: The Next Generation.”

• James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef Southwest in 2009/2010.

• Challenger on “Iron Chef.”

• Now competing in “Top Chef” on the Bravo channel.

WHAT: Cooking demonstration by Kelly Liken; dinner with and prepared by the chef; Enstrom chocolate and wine tasting.

WHEN: Friday, Sept. 17, cooking demo at 4 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m., followed by two hours of chocolate and wine tasting.

WHERE: DoubleTree Hotel, 743 Horizon Drive, Grand Junction.

COST: Demonstration, $50; dinner, $75; dessert and wine, $54; package for all three events, $170.

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In Kelly Liken lies the soul of a creative chef and the heart of a gladiator.

Just turned 34, she owns Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, one of a handful of destination restaurants in Colorado.

You may have seen her on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

She has taken on Iron Chef Jose Garces, finishing a scant five points behind the second-generation Ecuadorean-American master. The secret ingredient was bleu cheese.

“It’s one of my favorites,” she said, “but it was a challenge to create five courses from bleu cheese.”

And if you turn on the Bravo channel Wednesday night, Sept. 8, you’ll see Liken competing in a fierce battle for the champion’s belt on “Top Chef.” The venue is Singapore and only five of the original 17 chefs remain.

Only a decade out of culinary school, Liken is on the map.

How could she not be? She interned at The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia and turned down several prestigious offers, preferring instead to settle in the Rocky Mountains.

Liken, who has lived in Colorado on and off since she was young, is headlining this year’s Colorado Mountain Winefest as a celebrity chef.

On Friday, she will demonstrate cooking techniques and prepare a three-course dinner.

On Saturday, she’ll give two cooking demonstrations free and open to any festivalgoers.

Fully Westernized after years in the East — she wears black-and-white butterfly cowboy boots in her Bravo picture — Liken bases her cooking on three principles: simple, exciting and seasonal.

With her husband and partner, Rick Colomitz, Liken relies heavily on local produce, meats and wines. Colomitz is the man behind the wine and beverage menu.

No surprise that she taps the Grand Valley for her ingredients, and her dinner at Winefest will rely heavily on the harvest from the west side of the Rockies.

I wouldn’t presume to tip her hand, but Liken did give me some hints, so here it is: The menu will include Colorado lamb, farro pilaf, eggplant, pickled onions, heirloom tomatoes and a dessert made from Palisade peaches.

I asked the chef about some of her favorites in Colorado. Here’s what she raved about:

Palisade region stone fruit and heirloom tomatoes. “The best I’ve ever tasted.”

Wines from Plum Creek Winery and Canyon Winds Cellars, both of Palisade, and Leroux Creek of Paonia

Jack Rabbit Hill wine and Peak Spirits distilled liquor from Hotchkiss.

Dish restaurant in Vail, where chef Jenna Johansen specializes in a small-plate concept.

Restaurants The Kitchen and Mateo, both in Boulder.

When the chef is kicking back at home, which isn’t often — her day ends near midnight — she enjoys the “mean breakfasts” and barbecue feasts that her husband makes.

MILD AND WOOLY: The top sheep- and lamb-producing states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture are, in this order: Texas, California, Wyoming, Colorado and South Dakota.

Colorado’s output, at No. 4, is about 400,000 animals a year.

SOMETHING WITH YOUR BONES: Rib City Grill, 2830 North Ave., serves Bud Light and Coors Light for a quarter and select microbrews for a buck all day on Wednesdays. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Thanks to Hannah Soderborg, a Fruita Monument High School junior and summer intern at The Daily Sentinel, for her talented hand these past few months.

QUOTE: “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” — Calvin Trillin, U.S. columnist

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