Adam Watts, chef de cuisine of Jax Boulder, on brotherhood, fat and the baggie of weed
This is part one of my interview with Adam Watts, chef de cuisine at Jax Boulder. Part two of our chat will run on Thursday.
Cycling makes you hungry, says Adam Watts. The former professional pedaler, who spent the majority of his teen years cycling around the world as part of the Junior Olympic Mountain Bike team, grew up in a food-focused family, but wasn't a fixture at the dinner table. "My mom is kind of a self-proclaimed gourmet, and I still have fond memories of going to the local farmers' market in Grand Haven, Michigan, where I grew up, but I was on the road all the time, living in host houses or camping, so I'd travel with little burners, and wherever the races brought me, I'd be cooking -- and carb-loading -- on whatever I could to keep it interesting," says Watts, now the chef de cuisine at Jax Fish House Boulder.
His love of cycling ultimately led him to Durango, where he dabbled in catering while attending Fort Lewis College to pursue a journalism degree, but he dropped out of school -- and cycling -- after two years and moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he snapped up his first gig in a professional kitchen, working as a line cook at a French bistro. He soon headed off to Grand Rapids for culinary school -- and then was sidetracked again. "I got a job as a line cook at an Italian restaurant, and the chef took me under his wing," recalls Watts, who quickly progressed to sous chef, a promotion that put the classroom on hold. But he made it there eventually, enrolling in a two-year program at Secchia Institute for Culinary Education in Grand Rapids before skipping off to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a job at Rhubarb, in the swanky Prestonfield Hotel. "It was there that I really paid my dues," says Watts. "It was where I transitioned from being a cook to a respected chef."
In the years that followed, he cooked at a Relais & Châteaux property in California, built his own small farm -- "I have a super green thumb," he reveals -- and then moved to Boulder and a slot as line cook at the Kitchen, where he moved his way up to sous chef and then chef de cuisine. He returned to Kalamazoo to test the waters there, but his wife, Sarah, who'd remained in Boulder while he was tearing up his knuckles in Michigan, persuaded him to come back. "She got her way, but she'd given me mine plenty of times, so I came back to Boulder, and connected with Sheila Lucero, the executive chef of Jax, and after two months of interviews and stages, they gave me the choice of the chef de cuisine job at Jax Denver or Boulder, and I chose Boulder," he says.