Jonah Munson, exec chef of the Walnut Room, on yard sales and mixers

JohanMwalnutroom1.jpg
Lori Midson

Jonah Munson
Walnut Room
3131 Walnut Street
303-295-1868
2 Broadway
303-736-6750
thewalnutroom.com

This is part one of my interview with Jonah Munson, exec chef of the Walnut Room. Part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.

"I started cooking when I was really young, and we had family dinners nearly every night -- that's what you do when there are six kids in the family," says Jonah Munson, who adds that being the youngest of six siblings didn't get him any preferential treatment, either. "We all ate, we all cooked, and we definitely all cleaned. It was understood that everyone did their part."

See also:
- Best Pizza - 2013: Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria
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- Our ten best pizzas in Denver (and Boulder)

But despite hanging out in the family kitchen while growing up in Georgia, Munson had no desire to be a professional chef. "I messed around in the kitchen, but I was never a foodie," he admits, noting that he went to college with aspirations of becoming an airline mechanic.

A cake changed the career path for Munson, today the executive chef at the Walnut Room. "I was going to school in Florida and was completely broke, but I remember wanting a cake and deciding that it was probably more cost-effective to buy the ingredients and make it from scratch than to buy the box and everything else that you had to buy along with it," he says, pointing out that he made the frosting from scratch, too. "From what I remember, it was way better than a box cake, and good enough that I figured I'd make baking my hobby."

After nearly a decade in the construction business, Munson turned that pastime into a gig, taking a job at a bake shop and "learning how to make and stretch taffy, bake fudge and make pralines and bear claws," he says.

He did some traveling, too, including a six-week camping trip across America that included a stop in Colorado, a state he "absolutely loved" -- and would eventually call home. But first he'd open his own restaurant in Forsyth, Georgia, a small hamlet that was a restaurant wasteland, Munson recalls. "My wife and I had been talking about opening a restaurant, and I was still doing a lot of baking on the side, and there was nowhere to eat in this town, so we opened a brick-oven bistro and bakery," says Munson, who still owns that restaurant in partnership with other family members.


Location Info

The Walnut Room

3131 Walnut St., Denver, CO

Category: Music

The Walnut Room Pizzeria

2 N. Broadway, Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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3 comments
kandramichelle
kandramichelle

I agree, Denver Dave; the term “Chef” has almost no meaning anymore, there are some aspects in the food world where you’re just a cook or just a kitchen manager and that’s it. Some schlep who worked as a cook at Denny’s (does not matter at what level from line cook to kitchen manager or as Lori puts it “Executive Chef”) magically somehow they’re now a chef? A chef spends a lifetime developing and honing their skills in the culinary arts. A true chef ‘s knowledge and skills goes far beyond some tool dropping a frozen chicken fried steak into the deep fryer and flipping a pizza. Like a friend of mine said “you get to sit in the cockpit of a plane and maybe fly the plane for a minute and now you’re a pilot” silly- I believe the pilot as well as the chef would be insulted.

LoriMidsonCafeSociety
LoriMidsonCafeSociety moderator editortopcommenter

Hi, Dave--

Others may weigh in here, but I consider the executive chef the head of the kitchen -- the person who has overall responsibility of the line, menu creation, staffing, ordering and purchasing...the list goes on. And Jonah, like most of the chefs I interview, is the head of his kitchen. There are some restaurants, obviously, that call their executive chef a kitchen manager or chef, but whatever their title, they're the ones running the kitchen.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

This really has nothing to do with Jonah.  I'm sure he's a nice guy and has some industry chops.  My issue is when did every cook get promoted to Executive Chef?  I blame Westword (in part) for the lack of distinction between an Executive Chef, a Chef, a Sous Chef etc. etc. on down the line.  After reading so many of these Westword articles proclaiming that the cook in question is an Executive Chef I wonder if anyone knows the definition anymore.  Just because you are the "senior" (or in some cases the only cook) in a restaurant does not automatically make you the Exec.  Talk about title inflation - jeez.  Now every pizza joint has an Exec - NOT.

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