Patrick Hartnett, exec chef of Kachina Southwestern Grill, on chiles, chiles and chiles

Lori Midson

Patrick Hartnett
Kachina Southwestern Grill
10600 Westminster Boulevard, Westminster

This is part one of my interview with Patrick Hartnett, exec chef of Kachina Southwestern Grill; part two of our chat will run tomorrow.

The restaurants at a Holiday Inn will never make anyone's short list of favorites, but aspiring chefs have to start somewhere, and at fourteen, Patrick Hartnett found himself on the line of a Holiday Inn in Pittsburgh, which, he says, certainly superseded the paper route he'd had since he was seven.

See also:

- Exclusive first look: Kachina Southwestern Grill opens Thursday at the Westin Westminster

"I'll admit that the food wasn't very good," says Hartnett, "but food intrigued me, and I did my best to make sure that what we put out was as good as I could make it." In fact, Hartnett would trot down to the local market, where he'd spend his own money to pick up the same ingredients he was using in the restaurant kitchen. "I can remember going out to the grocery store to get turkey, bacon, bread and other essentials, and I'd take everything home and make sandwiches, just so I could practice and create better sandwiches at the restaurant. It was important to me to perfect that sandwich," recalls Hartnett, now the executive chef of Kachina, a new Southwestern restaurant in Westminster that's part of Sage Hospitality Group, which also runs Second Home Kitchen + Bar in at the JW Marriott in Cherry Creek and the Corner Office in the Curtis.

And when he wasn't putting in time at the Holiday Inn, Hartnett was attending a two-year vocational school, where he concentrated on the culinary arts, entering -- and winning -- competitions and learning the crafts of butchery and baking. At eighteen, he was the head chef of a small restaurant, the youngest cook in the kitchen. "I did a horrible job, and I hired all of my friends, which is always a really bad idea," he admits, then adds, "I was looking for direction in my life, and cooking had always been a passion, so I needed to see if this was something that I could stick with."

And it was. For the next several years, Hartnett cooked in Dallas, and it was there that he developed an intense fascination for Southwestern food. "I'd already fallen in love with spicy food, but cooking in Dallas introduced me to Mexican, Tex-Mex and Southwestern cuisines," he recalls, "and when I eventually left Dallas, I had a much deeper appreciation for the kind of food I wanted to cook, not to mention a deeper respect for fresh ingredients."

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