dish's Jenna Johansen thanks the universe for supplying the world with pig
This is part one of my interview with Jenna Johansen, co-owner/chef of dish restaurant in Edwards. Part two of this interview will run in this space tomorrow.
"I can talk about an apple for an hour," insists Jenna Johansen. "No, really, I can. I love food more than just about anyone I know -- certainly more than most people, and even more than most chefs." Johansen, the chef/co-owner of dish, one of the Vail Valley's most highly regarded restaurants, is sitting at her bar, noshing on soups, salads and sweetbreads with Kelly Liken, who owns her own restaurant in Vail. The two of them banter back and forth, bouncing cooking ideas off one another and discussing everything from apples to Asian ingredients. And long after Liken leaves -- and dish closes for the night -- Johansen's still immersed in her menus, still as enamored with cooking as she was twenty years ago, when, at fourteen, she got her first job in the kitchen, working for free in a bakery in Boulder.
"I've been lucky enough to know that I always wanted to be a chef," says Johansen. "I didn't really come from a foodie family, but I was a latchkey kid growing up in Boulder, and I was more than happy to come home and make the family meal for dinner" -- and to bust her butt in every type of restaurant imaginable, just to learn the ropes. "I worked at the Rio Grande in Boulder to learn how to make food quickly, as a corporate chef at Pappadeaux, where I learned how to cook really high-volume, on the opening team of a restaurant in Walt Disney World, and as a server at Zino in Edwards -- all because I wanted to know every single aspect of working in a restaurant."
Along the way, she got her degree in restaurant and resort management from Colorado State University, graduating early, she says, because "I wanted to hurry up and go to culinary school," which she did, at Johnson & Wales, in Vail, before the campus relocated to Denver. And then she took off for Italy to spend a year in Tuscany. "I'm incredibly passionate about Italian food, and I wanted to meet the people, drink the wines, eat the food and really submerge myself in Italian cuisine and culture."
When Johansen moved back to Colorado -- and eventually to Denver -- she was tapped as the opening chef of Ventura Grille (now Le Mistral). "I helped build that concept from start to finish, and was involved in every single aspect of that restaurant," she says. When Steve Shelman, the owner of Ventura, opened Ocotillo in the same suburban strip center (it's now the Dusty Boot), Johansen spearheaded that kitchen, too. "I was running two concurrent kitchens, which was a crazy opportunity -- the kind of opportunity that I was incredibly grateful to have," she says.