Chef and Tell with Nelson Perkins from Colt & Gray
Colt & Gray
1553 Platte Street
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 4-9 p.m. Sunday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Nelson Perkins frowns, rolls his eyes and lets out a groan when I ask him about the "G" word. "I finally just got so tired of people making way too much out of the gastropub label that I stopped using it altogether," says Perkins, executive chef of Colt & Gray, the sleekly casual restaurant he opened as a gastropub in August 2009 with chef de cuisine Brad Rowell. "I still don't think people really understand the concept of a gastropub -- that the 'gastro' part of it reflects a food-driven pub -- so let's just say that we're a comfortable neighborhood restaurant with high-end food," he declares, hoping to silence the debate once and for all. "We're just Colt & Gray; come in and try our food."
Perkins, who was born and raised in Colorado, started dabbling in the restaurant business before he was a teenager, first as a busboy at Bonnie Brae Tavern, and later as a server and cook with Occasions by Sandy, a local catering company. He eventually chose a different fork in the road -- one that led to a lucrative career as a stockbroker. Still, he says, "I'd wanted to do something in the food industry for years, and I knew I had a knack for cooking, so I came home from the office one night and threw out some random idea for a restaurant to my wife, who told me to either shut up about it or do something about it."
Perkins went with the latter, packing up his wife and two kids and moving to New York City, where he attended, and graduated from, the French Culinary Institute. He staged at Public and Blue Hill, two renowned New York restaurants, where he perfected his cooking techniques, worked his way through the stations and immersed himself in vegetables, a zeal that he attributes to Blue Hill owner-chef Dan Barber. "I wanted to learn everything I could about vegetables," he recalls, "and Dan was the perfect person to learn from, because he used every vegetable you can think of and he treated them so gently."
Armed with an affinity for every vegetable from aubergine to zucchini, Perkins returned to Denver in late 2007. At first, he says, the goal was to find an inn or boutique hotel, but after several months of futile searching, he turned his focus to restaurants, and after eight months of traipsing through spaces, he snatched up the parcel on Platte Street -- around the corner from Sushi Sasa and down the street from My Brother's Bar, Proto's and Paris Wine Bar -- that's now Colt & Gray.
"This whole restaurant experience has been way more work than I ever imagined," Perkins admits. "But from day one, my whole attitude has been that we were going to be one of the best restaurants in Denver, and I think we're growing into that. We buy the best ingredients we can, and we let the purity of those ingredients shine." The only thing missing from the menu, he muses, is duck testicles. "God, they're delicious, but I don't think anyone would order them." Wrong.
In the following interview, Perkins professes his love for offal, ballyhoos fennel and beer, concedes that he needs a slab of steer at least once a week, and argues that chain restaurants aren't the pillar of evil.