Annabelle Forrestal, exec chef of Vine Street, Mountain Sun Pub and Southern Sun, on food critics, the French Laundry and hot sauce

AnnabelleF.jpg
Lori Midson

Annabelle Forrestal
Vine Street Pub, Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery and Southern Sun
www.mountainsunpub.com

If you want to pick a perfect melon, Annabelle Forrestal suggests that you pick her brain. Growing up in St. Louis, Forrestal, now the executive chef of Vine Street Pub in Denver and Southern Sun and Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery in Boulder, spent summers -- six, to be exact -- as the resident melon expert at the local farmers' market. "My first job was at the local farmers' market -- I begged the people who ran it to give me a job -- and I was the best melon picker in town," claims Forrestal. "People would come down on a Thursday asking for a cantaloupe that would be perfect on the following Tuesday, and without fail, I could pick the best one, even if I did get really dirty."

Her melon knowledge grew out of working in her family's garden as a child. "We'd go out and pick vegetables every day for dinner, and just about every meal we had included something from our garden," she remembers. "It was a family activity, and I loved having access to raw produce and fruit, and I loved being outside."

But while Forrestal had a fetish for food and farmers' markets, she didn't aspire to become a chef. "I wanted to be an architect, so I moved to New York City for college, thinking that my career would take me away from food," she recalls. She graduated from Parsons School of Design with a degree in architecture and then headed west to Denver to be closer to her sister and continue to build her portfolio. "My plan was to get some experience and just stay with my sister for the summer, but I needed a job, so I applied for a waitress position at Mountain Sun to make some extra money."

She never left. "From the very beginning, I really enjoyed working there," says Forrestal, noting that while she started as a server, the trio of pubs cross-trains its staff, which meant that she'd eventually land in the kitchen. "I'd never cooked professionally, and I was terrified, plus I was a vegetarian when I got the job, and I had to cook an enormous number of burgers. That scared me."

She's no longer a vegetarian. "It turned out that I started to eat meat again, and I loved -- absolutely loved -- being in the kitchen," confides Forrestal. "It amazed me, it was fast-paced, I had to think on my toes, I could hold my own, and I cooked good -- and good-looking -- food." So good, in fact, that she didn't return to the front of the house. Instead, she continued to be a kitchen sponge, prepping, grilling and frying until she became the assistant kitchen manager.

"I bit off a huge chunk of responsibility, and I was really determined to do a great job, so I went home and read cookbooks every night and cooked for my friends," recalls Forrestal, who less than two years later was made the kitchen manager. "When I got that job, I finally committed to this career -- to something that I'd always been passionate about." And this past March, Forrestal became the executive kitchen manager, a job that entails overseeing all three lines. "Someday, I'd really like to open my own restaurant," she says, "but I'm really enjoying my time here, and every day is a new learning experience, which I crave."

In the following interview, Forrestal reminisces about her dinners at the French Laundry, muses on restaurant reviewers who like the sound of their own voices, and downplays the merits of hot sauce and birthday cake.


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15 comments
Everyone and my dog is a chef
Everyone and my dog is a chef

Not to be rude be she is NOT a chef. Just like the janitor at the hospital cant work his way up to doctor. Be properly trained if you want the title or just be straight forward and call yourself a "kitchen Manager". Really she is not a chef, she just found out what fresh pasta taste like for Tebow sakes...........

cook1
cook1

I thought she mode some valid and some silly points. They way she speaks about food is genuine but some of her answers like the one about having the cooks think for themselves sound inaccurate. As a chef it is her job to think for her cooks, or at least know what they're thinking. That being said she had some cool stuff to say and I've enjoyed all the beer and food I've have at vine street.

BoogerEater
BoogerEater

Calling yourself a chef by working at those places is to put it mildly , "a stretch."  Regardless of what the chef's does, the chef's food is not on the plate.  Essentially a some what well written article about a over glorified prep cook.  Ugh.  Exec. Chef my butt.

mattyselby
mattyselby

Chef Annabelle prepared some of the best gnocchi I've ever had at her Harvest Week dinner...I never got the chance to tell her!

A Chef
A Chef

I don't understand this.  I don't know whether or not she is a chef.  That term, whether defined by Webster or not, means that you have received some sort of training and now run a kitchen.  Kitchen manager, chef, head cook, really there is not much difference when you are at a restaurant of this caliber.  The pubs are not looking to have 4 star food, but they do have 4 star service.  If they mess up, they ALWAYS make up.  Burgers they serve, beer they pour, Booger Eaters not welcome.  Besides what other pubs do you see where when you walk in you are not assaulted by TV?  The pubs rock.

TinaBurgerMunch
TinaBurgerMunch

BoogerEater...Go eat some more boogers! Annabelle is one of the hardest-working people I know. She's very passionate about what she does, and I enjoy eating everything she creates. Who are you to say she is not a chef?! 

toeachtheirown
toeachtheirown

the opinion of this self-proclaimed "booger eater" is hardly worth noting, except for it's absurdity. on the contrary, chef annabelle has been an inspiration to the menu at all three pubs. cheers to her great food!

PCR
PCR

@fa0bb4899de4012151968d180b2b3147:disqus . Whether you call her a prep cook or a chef, the fact of the matter is that Chef Annabelle oversees 3 very busy bar/restaurants where the food is consistent and real. Perhaps executing someone else's menu is not what you call a "chef", remember, chef means nothing more than "boss". Finally, Ive had the pleasure of working sise by side w Chef Annabelle, and the gal can cook.And their wings rule, too

BoogerEaterLove
BoogerEaterLove

Over seeing three pubs makes you a chef?  The food is consistent and real at McDonalds too, but the head kitchen person in there does not call themselves a chef. So, to reply to that being some sort of qualifying criterium...NO.  Busy or not. It does not matter.  Chef is too fast becoming a bastardized term that is applied loosely to burger flippers, kitchen managers and the like.  This 'chef' does not order the food but for one place, does not develop recipes except on the 'special' board.  The kitchen is literally built around burger flipping and cutting french fries.  That's it.  ANYONE can write a menu and make is sound good and taste good.  That is NOT what defines you as a chef.  I was not picking on her, but her title.  As far as cooking a burger to temp.-well that is what you get when you have mildly culinary minded people cooking the food.  The pubs (all 3) are great, but if you go there for a 'gastro' pub type experience. You will be disappointed. Have a beer, it will anything taste good.

PCRisanidiot
PCRisanidiot

Chef means nothing more than boss.  You are an asshole.  Try to order a burger to temp at this "chef's"  Vine St. location.   

Santa
Santa

If anyone can do it than why aren't you? Oh thats right you were let go because your skill level was less than most that work at McDonalds. Don't hate. Grow Up. Remember Santa knows everything!

tooter
tooter

BoogerEater - What do you do for a living?  Have you ever worked in a restaurant or kitchen?  I did not see anything in this article that lead me to believe that the "pubs" are trying to be Gastro by any means.  Maybe you should apply to one of the pubs and try flipping burgers yourself.  BTW - Merriam-Webster defines 'chef' as: chef noun \ˈshef\Definition of CHEF1: a skilled cook who manages the kitchen (as of a restaurant)

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