Greetings from The Kitchen!
What a wonderful time of year! We've been celebrating the season with Ray Decker and his exceptional list of utterly delicious winter beers. We chatted with Maine's famous fishmonger, Ingrid Bengis, and enjoyed her exquisite scallops, now in season and featured on The Kitchen's menu—we're keeping our fingers crossed that Ingrid will make a special visit to The Kitchen in January. And we raised a glass to the achievements of Bryce Winton Brown's Growe Foundation, which has made great strides toward improving lunch offerings for Boulder's school kids. We hope to see you at one of our many special events planned around the New Year. Happy Holidays, and Happy 2009 from The Kitchen.
Staff [Portrait]: Ray Decker
As The Kitchen’s General Manager, Ray Decker runs up and down the long flight of steps between the downstairs restaurant and the [Upstairs] several times a day—going through the bar inventory, checking in with executive chef Kyle Mendenhall, or meeting an anxious applicant for a job opening at the front door. But what seems to make him happiest is working on the [Upstairs] beer list.
Soon after his arrival at The Kitchen—“my first solo night was our Grand Opening [Upstairs]”— three years ago, Ray found himself in charge of ordering for the [Upstairs] bar. And even though he’s a certified sommelier and knows a thing or two about wine, Ray has a soft spot for ales and lagers, stouts and porters: “For me, there’s a slight edge to beer,” he admits.
Ray has put together an impressive and diverse collection of beers from around the world. A list that used to include 15 beers—not a bad selection for most establishments—has grown to 75 hand-picked brews. And counting those he has stashed away behind-the-scenes, The Kitchen has more 100 beers in-house, from North American ales to Belgian lambics.
Boulderites have been quick to catch on. “I’ve definitely watched the clientele’s palate and taste develop,” says Ray. “It’s been fun.” This evolution is thanks, in part, to Ray’s efforts to educate customers about his beverage of choice, whether through [Upstairs] beer classes or his detailed and well-organized beer list.
“I think in order to put those eclectic and kind of obscure beers on the list, you have to encourage people to try,” says Ray. His beer list is divided into domestic beers and imported brews, with a whole page dedicated to Belgian imports alone. And to give customers an idea of what to expect from the often unfamiliar and exotic-sounding selections, each is accompanied by Ray’s own tasting notes. “It gives you a little bite of what you are going to be tasting or smelling,” he says.
Indeed, Ray’s descriptions are quite detailed and evocative. Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Flemish Red Ale, for example, is ‘complex and tempting with notes of bourbon-soaked sour cherries, passion fruit, and cocoa,’ while Weltenburger Kloster Winter-Traum, a German Christmas Beer, boasts ‘spiced aromas of cinnamon and ginger root balanced with notes of baked bread and caramel.’
And every other month, Ray leads a beer class around the [Upstairs] community table. The classes, which pair several beers with as many courses of food prepared in the wood-fired oven, have become extremely popular—the last one sold out within hours of its announcement. Converts return to further explore what’s on offer, ordering 750 ml bottles off the Reserve list.
Ray credits his relationship with numerous distributors for some of the more unusual beers he has added to the list. Small-production, imported brews can often be hard to come by. “I’d be reading about these beers online and wanted to try them,” Ray recalls. “But finding them was so difficult.” Today, distributors often call Ray—they know his taste, and send their limited inventory his way.
But ultimately, it’s The Kitchen’s commitment to support small, artisanal producers that has allowed Ray to keep exploring, and customers drinking exciting beer from home and abroad. “That’s one of the things that I love about this restaurant,” Ray explains. “Hugo and Kimbal give you that space to create and be passionate.”
Ray is most passionate about the seasonal beers that are brewed especially for this time of year: “The winter beers that come out right now are my favorite.” And his most treasured, Gouden Carolus ‘Noël’, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, is on tap. When the distributor called to tell Ray he had gotten his hands on four kegs of the limited brew, Ray jumped on the opportunity and took them all. “That, right now, is probably the most special beer on the list.” This month, Ray has added a whole page of ‘Christmas Beers’ to his line-up, on offer exclusively during the holidays: ‘Tis the Season.’
December is the beginning of scallop season. This fact alone alludes to the mysterious nature of the marshmallow-shaped muscle of the only migratory bivalve. Why December? Just when the dark roasts, slow juicy braises, dark greens, and dense root vegetables of winter are starting to feel very appealing, how can we turn our attention to the delicate, white, almost crystalline charms of the scallop?
Profile [Producer]: Ingrid Bengis
“We had an ice storm here yesterday… it gives us a good reason to slow down, light kerosene lamps and sit around the kitchen packing more logs into the cook-stove.” It’s a frigid December day in coastal Maine, but until today Ingrid Bengis has been very busy. Now, since she works mostly from home, she has a moment to sit by the fire and talk about the small yet stellar business she started twenty-five years ago.
News: The Growe Foundation's Garden to Table Project
The Kitchen’s Bryce Winton Brown has reason to celebrate: his organization’s efforts to promote healthy eating in local schools have been heartily embraced by the Boulder Valley School District. Earlier this month, the school board contracted with Ann Cooper, a leader of nationwide school lunch reform, to help implement Boulder’s ambitious School Food Project. Within three years, the project aims to replace processed foods on schools’ menus with locally-sourced, whole foods.
Stories by China Tresemer and Veronica Volny. © 2008. All rights reserved.