Ex-Barolo Grill chef Brian Laird tapped to be the new exec chef of Russo's Kitchen + Tavern
Six months ago, Mark Dym, the owner of Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, 2129 Larimer Street, was interviewing potential chefs to oversee a new temple of gastronomy at Vallagio at Inverness, an urbanized, retail, restaurant and residence development spearheaded by Peter Kudla, the COO of Metropolitan Homes. The Vallagio, which already showcases the unassailable kitchen talents of Parallel 17 owner/chef Mary Nguyen, who opened Street Kitchen Asian Bistro last month, will soon be swelled with several more restaurants, including a second Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, a Biker Jim's outpost and Russo's Kitchen + Tavern, which, Dym told me last Thursday night, would be ruled by Brian Laird, the former executive chef of Barolo Grill, who spent nearly thirteen years presiding over that line.
Lori Midson Lori Midson The new Russo's Kitchen + Tavern at the Vallagio at Inverness
When I chatted with Dym, Kudla's partner in the Vallagio enterprise, last year for a Chef and Tell interview, I asked him to name Denver's current culinary genius; his answer was Brian Laird. "The guy is completely off the charts and yet so underrated," he told me. "What's so cool about Brian is that he's actually in the kitchen cooking. I love his creativity, passion, quirkiness and energy, and he always has something new he's working on. Every time I go in for dinner, he just cooks for me. Last time it was cantaloupe soup with sour cream gelato, and I gotta tell you, it's the most memorable dish I've had in Denver. When you let him loose, he's just fantastic."
That dinner -- and many others at Barolo -- were never far from Dym's mind, so when he started thinking about a chef to power the kitchen at Russo's, Laird was front and center. "He's one of my favorite chefs in Denver, and while I talked to a lot of chefs about Russo's, they weren't the right fit, so I approached Brian, who, at the time, declined, but we continued to talk and started exploring a consulting opportunity," says Dym.
And then, last month, Laird left his post at Barolo Grill. "I got a call from Brian out of the blue right after he left Barolo, and we started to talk again about the opportunity at Russo's. I mean, who's better than Brian? Nobody," insists Dym. Laird said he'd think about it while sunning and surfing in Hawaii, where he's been spending the last few weeks decompressing.
Soon after he arrived, Laird texted a Hawaiian landscape photo -- the kind that makes us all wish like hell we were in Hawaii right now -- to Dym, along with his decision. "Hey, Mark," it read. "This is where I was when I decided, what the fuck? Let's do business!"