Justin Brunson taps pastry queen Nadine Donovan to spearhead the dessert program at Old Major
Justin Brunson is happier than a pig in mud. The chef-owner of Masterpiece Deli recently launched Denver Bacon Company, he's on the prowl for a second location to open another Masterpiece, and in February of next year, he'll unveil Old Major, a seafood, swine and wine restaurant in Highland that broke construction just a few weeks ago. And he's just hired Nadine Donovan, the pastry chef of his dreams, to spearhead the sugar finales.
- Justin Brunson will open Old Major -- a swine, wine and seafood restaurant -- in Highland
- Bacon, beer and Justin Brunson: Porky photos from Denver's kick-ass Bacon and Beer Festival
- Masterpiece Delicatessen chef Justin Brunson on opening a new restaurant and his fetish for foie gras and lamb testicles
Brunson first heard about Donovan's finesse with sweets from grape guru and Old Major wine director Jonathan Greschler, who had worked with the pastry chef at Fuel Cafe -- and in August, Brunson took off for Portland, where Donovan was then working at a high-volume bread bakery and spending time in the kitchens of Le Pigeon and the Woodsman Tavern, to check out her repertoire, only to discover that she'd broken her hip and wasn't cooking. Still, she managed to bust out a box of oatmeal cream pies and her version of Oreo cookies, and, says Brunson, "they were some of the best fucking cream pies and cookies I've ever had." And since Donovan was itching to move back to Denver, where she has family, Brunson kept her on his radar.
Donovan returned to Denver six weeks ago, and Brunson immediately brought her on board at the Deli, where, he notes, she's been working the front of the house, and last week, he gave her the opportunity to do a dessert tasting, using the Squeaky Bean kitchen, to see if she had the chops to become the pastry chef at Old Major.
He was blown away. "The Squeaky Bean let us borrow their kitchen because they have the best equipment, and while she only had two short mornings to get everything together, she absolutely killed it," he says. "She did four different desserts, including a tangerine semifreddo with olive oil cake and tangerine molasses and tangerine foam that was fucking out of this world -- I couldn't stop eating it." In addition, she wowed him with an apple beignet with sour cream ice cream, honey candy and an apple cider gastrique; pecan pie with molasses ice cream, sugar-coated chicharrones, candied pecans and bourbon anglalise; and a six-way chocolate plate. "She also also baked some savory breads for me that were full of mad skills, and every single one of her desserts was delicious -- I cleaned every single plate all on my own," admits Brunson.