Aaron Bennett, exec chef of Bácaro Venetian Taverna: Don't come in five minutes before we close -- and don't order well-done steak!
This is part one of my interview with Aaron Bennett, exec chef of Boulder's Bácaro Venetian Taverna. Part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
Aaron Bennett's career in the kitchen began when he was thirteen. Like most teen boys, he was intrigued by cars, knew he wanted to hit the pavement the day he turned sixteen, and understood that if he wanted to cruise, he needed to save some dough -- a lot of it. "I started washing dishes five nights a week after school as soon as my parents told me that they'd match what I'd saved," recalls Bennett, now the executive chef of Bácaro Venetian Taverna. "I worked at a restaurant on Lafayette, saving just about every penny I earned."
He eventually got the car, and while dish duty was simply a means to an end, he continued to work in Colorado kitchens, doing time on the line at the now-gone Karen's Country Kitchen in Louisville, where he worked his way up from dishes to the omelet station after the regular egg dork didn't show up for his shift. "At that point, I'd really taken a liking to cooking, and I've been doing it ever since," says Bennett, who moved to Denver when he was eighteen to take a gig as the deli supervisor at a former Alfalfa's Market, where he quickly found himself creating dishes for the hot case. "It turned out that I had a natural ability to cook without recipes," he recalls, "and I didn't just like cooking; I was really good at it, and I knew that I wanted to stick with it."
He began applying to culinary schools, but found the tuition prohibitive and instead turned to the American Culinary Federation's Chef Apprenticeship program, a three-year curriculum that requires students to find a certified executive chef sponsor to take them under the knife. Bennett enrolled and landed an apprenticeship at the Brown Palace. "I know that it was the best place at the time to do my apprenticeship, but the chef really didn't want to take one on, so I called him two or three times a week for three weeks -- bugged the shit out of him -- until he relented on the condition that I promised to stop bothering him," remembers Bennett.
"It was the best thing I ever did," he adds, noting that he worked every station in all three restaurants -- Palace Arms, Ship Tavern and Ellyngton's -- and was the first apprentice there to run the grande dame's private dining club. Bennett completed the program, and after "spending three years at some of the best restaurants in Denver, I wanted to work for the best hotel in the state," he says, so he trotted up to Aspen, where he became the chef de tournant at Montagna in the Little Nell. "It was a super-challenging job, super-busy and super-high-quality," says Bennett, who left when he spotted an ad for a sous-chef position at the Ritz-Carlton in Aspen Highlands. Not long after, at the age of 26, he was promoted to executive chef. "Right after I got the job, I had to host the Best New Chefs dinner at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and it was incredibly daunting," he remembers. "It was absolutely manic, and everything was total trial by fire...but it was also one of the best times I've ever had."