Mitch Mayers, exec chef of Black Pearl, on Mohawks and Agio

Lori Midson

Mitch Mayers
Black Pearl
1529 South Pearl Street

This is part one of my interview with Mitch Mayers, exec chef of Black Pearl; part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.

Mitch Mayers wanted to cook; his parents insisted that he go to Cornell. He negotiated. "I made a deal with my parents that I'd go to Cornell if they'd also send me to culinary school," says Mayers, now the executive chef at Black Pearl. After all, he'd been playing around in his own kitchen -- and learning about food -- since before he was a teenager.

See also:
- Black Pearl owner Steve Whited and his chef, Mitch Mayers, will open Agio in Baker early next year
- Ed Kammerer, exec chef-owner of Highland Pacific Restaurant & Oyster Bar, on clams, Coastal cuisine and his career

Although he was born and raised in Seattle, Mayers spent his early teens living in Germany with his parents (his dad was involved with the World's Fair), and his time there convinced him to consider a career behind the burners. "The whole food scene there really opened my eyes to different culinary cultures, and that's where I really started to think about cooking," he remembers. He returned to Seattle and got his first job on the line at fifteen, and it didn't take long for him to realize he didn't want to do anything else. "I loved the people, the volume, the speed and the passion in the kitchen -- and I saw myself being good at it," he says.

So while he was enrolled in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, he simultaneously attended the Culinary Institute of America -- and was rewarded with a summer externship at the Herbfarm, a James Beard-winning restaurant in Seattle that changed his life. "It was the most fucking awesome experience ever, but I've never felt so intimidated," Mayers admits, noting that he cooked alongside chefs from Per Se and the French Laundry. "Everything was herb-oriented, which is now part of my own cooking school of thought, and I learned more in that kitchen than anywhere else I've ever been." Including how to multi-task, he says, a skill that would later help him get a gig with the Hillstone Restaurant Group.

"I had some bills to pay, but more important, I wanted to learn about the managerial side of running a successful, profitable and efficient restaurant, and frankly, no one does that better than Hillstone," explains Mayers, who spent nearly three years with the group, working in Miami, Houston and, eventually, Denver, where he ran the kitchen at Cherry Creek Grill.

But while his experiences with Hillstone gave him the insight he wanted, Mayers was eager to cook at an independent restaurant. And at a wine-tasting at Table 6, he met Steve Whited, owner of Black Pearl. "I got into food because I love playing with ingredients and being creative, and when I met Steve, his former chef had just left, and after we talked, it really felt like it was the right fit," recalls Mayers, who took the exec-chef position at Black Pearl in May of last year. "I was absolutely petrified at first, so I called a buddy of mine from culinary school who was working at the Inn at Little Washington, and he was just like, of course you should take the job. You already know how to run a kitchen; creating new recipes is the fun part. He was pretty convincing -- and he was right," says Mayers, who in the following interview extols the virtues of the blowtorch, reveals some of the rather offbeat rules he has for his kitchen staff, and explains why it's not necessary for Denver's dining scene to become a New York copycat.

Location Info

Black Pearl

1529 S. Pearl St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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The only mistake Mitch has made thus far is not going to work under better individuals......  He'd be better eating some humble pie and working in kitchens such as Fruition, Frasca, Mizuna etc not as the chief but as a line cook....  While he's learning important management skills at his present position, the passion is lacking.  If you don't think it is go and eat at Black Pearl one night.  The most telling thing in the interview was that it was his summer externship at a restaurant working under people from Thomas Keller's empire that had him the most fired up....then he had bills to pay and ended up at Hillstone, yawn.    


I don't know Mitch real well, but I've spent some time with him at industry event and I cross paths with him through the normal course of business.  I've found him to be professional, passionate, and funny.  I respect him and his food. 


It strikes me as somewhat sad that a good number of the chefs in the Chef and Tell articles become punching bags for hate driven missives and rants from anonymous posters.  I've traveled to other cities and I haven't found one that exemplifies the philanthropically chef driven culture that we enjoy in Denver.  I applaud the chefs that put it all out there in the interviews - that's part of their DNA - it takes guts and it's why the chefs have been so successful growing our food culture in Denver. 


Why are some of these Westword readers so hateful?  Can't blame the cost of the Westword.  Time to stop the cheap shots!  


I worked with Mitch at the ccg and there is no one harder working or more dedicated than him. The kid works his ass off every day to do a job and am guessing that was the same in school. He is definitely not entitled and has earned everything he has done


I've only interacted with him once, but I thought he was nice and extremely helpful. I don't get all the hate.

ScubaSteve topcommenter

Is this kitchen dude for real?  Insisting that his folks send him to Cornell AND cooking school?  Is this the height of greed , spolied brattiness and immaturity, or what?  He's only 25 years old and has a long way to go in real life. Grow up, dude.


shut up man, what have you accomplished?

LoriMidsonCafeSociety moderator editor

 @steveville No, not quite. It was his parents -- not him -- who insisted on Cornell. He agreed to go on the condition that he could also go to culinary school, because, you know, that was the career he wanted to pursue.

Mantonat topcommenter

 @steveville Last time I checked, you still have to get accepted into Cornell and the CIA. If he's willing to put in the work to be successful at both, and if his family can afford it, how does that make him greedy, bratty, or immature? Not everybody can have a rags to riches story to warm our hearts. Sometimes people with money can also be smart and hard-working.

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