Chef and Tell with Jennifer Jasinski from Rioja and Bistro Vendome
Unless you've been in self-imposed isolation or mandatory lockdown, you've no doubt heard the news: Jennifer Jasinski, executive chef/co-owner of Rioja and Bistro Vendôme, is just months away from opening Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen, an American tavern that she describes as a "lively place where people can come and drink a few beers and nosh, maybe eat some bone marrow, some great bread, definitely crudo and a really great cheese plate, and, hell, maybe even some fried pigs' ears."
Oh, and another thing? "It'll be open late," she promises. It might even become a chef hangout -- Denver's own Blue Ribbon -- which should appease every cooker in this city who's bitched about Denver's dearth of after-dark joints conducive to good grubbing, guzzling and huddling. "I want it to be fun, playful and interactive," says Jasinski, pausing just long enough to make one more declaration: "I'd love for this to be the most successful tavern in the world."
From another mouth, those words might make eyes roll. But coming from Jasinski, who's no stranger to success -- she worked with Wolfgang Puck for eleven years and has racked up a platter of accolades for her superb talents here in Denver -- that kind of ambition and drive for perfection is just part of her daily routine. After all, we're talking about someone who doesn't have one person on her line at Rioja who isn't trained to do at least three jobs, sometimes more. "One reason why we're so consistent is that I really try to teach my staff how to do everything; everyone is cross-trained, which means that there are always at least three cooks that know how to do each station -- pantry, grill, sauté, pasta and oven," explains Jasinski before switching the subject back to the menu she's developing for Euclid Hall.
"I want to do lots of pickled items, cool po'boys, homemade fresh mustards and lots of in-house sausages -- weisswurst, veal sausage, schnitzel and maybe a fresh andouille," she says. "We really want to have whole carcasses and use everything we possibly can; it's important to know how to utilize everything -- whole pigs, whole lambs, whole fish," she insists, adding that the restaurant's beer selection will be another big draw. "We'll have lots and lots and lots of beer."
With any luck, you'll be sipping one of those brews while leafing through The Perfect Bite, Jasinki's soon-to-be-released cookbook, a 200-page compendium of 86 recipes, all of which are culled from the menus at Rioja. "I've wanted to do a cookbook for a long time, so when the opportunity came up, I started creating in my head, went through all my favorite recipes from the past five years and asked the staff to pick their favorites," explains Jasinski, suddenly breaking into a wide smile. "Not only did I write a book, but every recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photo. My grandmother would have appreciated that."
Six words to describe your food: Direct, focused, technique-driven, seasonal and flavorful.
Ten words to describe you: Driven, intense, focused, emotional, teacher, leader, gregarious, honest, creative and genuine.
Culinary inspirations: Wolfgang Puck. I worked for him for eleven years, and he never ceased to amaze me. He was such a hard worker and such a great leader; he always let his staff shine. He taught people to think creatively, and I loved how he was a whole restaurateur, not just a chef. I'd like to think that I'm a lot like that. He taught me a ton of skills: how to make risotto, sausages, sauces, how to butcher fish -- pretty much everything. My grandmother was amazing, too. She was a great entertainer who loved to have dinner parties; food was always a very social occasion for her. Her attention to detail was incredible, and she always focused on the whole picture, which rubbed off on me. I'm always inspired by the seasons. When I see something that looks beautiful, I want it. Right now, at Rioja, I'm using these beautiful organic rainbow carrots -- purple, red, white, orange and yellow. They're sweet, like candy.