Muscovy Duck at Rioja Denver

Muscovy Duck at Rioja Denver. Photo by Charles Park

Colorado may be famous for mountain peaks and snow skiing, but it’s also home to a burgeoning food scene. With bountiful fruit crops, more than 2.8 million head of cattle and upward of 34,000 farms, the Centennial State is a culinary playground.

Thanks to a large and thriving agricultural community, the food served around town is the definition of fresh. Whether you sit down to enjoy a meal at an upscale restaurant or fill your bag with produce from a local purveyor, you’re likely to indulge in flavors from a farm just down the road.

Jason Morse and Jen Jasinski are two Colorado chefs who prominently source ingredients from and partner with local farmers, ranchers and producers.

farm to table

Farm-to-table chef Jen Jasinski owns five Denver area restaurants, including Rioja. Photo: Jeffrey S. Otto/FFM staff

Jen Jasinski of Rioja

Growing up in a single-parent household, Jen Jasinski learned to cook out of necessity and developed a love for creating recipes at an early age.

“Where I am now seems so far from that,” Jasinski says. “But that’s where it all started.”

Jasinski was the recipient of the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest and has a culinary resume that includes numerous restaurants. Her flagship is Rioja, a Mediterranean restaurant located in downtown Denver that offers a menu full of delicious dishes influenced by local and seasonal products.

farm to table

Summer Radish Salad at Rioja. Photo by Charles Park

“Some of my favorite Colorado products are Rocky Ford melons, Palisade cherries and peaches, and local cheese from Fruition Farms or Haystack Mountain,” Jasinski says.

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She also loves Colorado lamb, beef and pork from Boulder Lamb and Corner Post Meats.

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Jasinski has also developed great relationships with local producers. In fact, you can occasionally find her team circled around a barbecue with the owners of Boulder Lamb, where she purchases lamb and beef for her restaurant.

“If we all supported our local economy, it would help the people around us,” Jasinski says. “It would create jobs in the industry and lessen the impact on the environment.”

5280 culinary

Chef Jason Morse of 5280 Culinary. Photo via facebook.com/chefjasonmorse

Jason Morse of 5280 Culinary

It didn’t take long for Jason Morse to fall in love with food. He snagged his first job in the industry, cooking and washing dishes, at the humble age of 14.

“My love for all things culinary grew from there,” he says. “I’ve lived a culinary life for my entire career, and I’ve been so fulfilled to have done so.”

With a passion for high-quality food, Morse opened 5280 Culinary in 2010. His company offers everything from exceptional spices and brines to recipes for dishes like smoked pork belly – with recommendations to buy local meat.

“Supporting the local community is such an amazing thing for everyone,” Morse says. “It allows us to keep the money, products and story local, all while reducing our footprint. Not to mention the quality of food raised in Colorado is top notch.”

Over the years, Morse has worked closely with groups like Colorado Proud, Colorado Beef and Colorado Farm Bureau to learn about everything from infrastructure to the impact agriculture has on wildlife and the environment.

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“I’ve built some great friendships in the agricultural community,” says Morse. “One of my best relationships has turned into a fun chef-and-rancher partnership. We’re now raising chef-created Hereford beef.”

With fresh ingredients at their fingertips, it’s no wonder these Colorado chefs choose to fill their menus and recipes with local goods.