David Stewart, executive chef at Seasons Rotisserie and Grill knew what he wanted to be a chef since the fifth grade. His inspiration? The motelier, Howard Johnson, the founder and namesake of the ubiquitous motorlodges with the bright orange roofs.
“On Career Day, we toured the local Howard Johnson’s. We saw all the stoves, the walk-in coolers, and the ice cream fountain,” the former philosophy student says. “At that point, ‘chef’ became my standard answer to what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
But before you snicker at the motel’s infamous menu of fried clam strips and über-rich ice cream, consider this: it was Mr. Johnson who, in the early ’60s, hired Pierre Franey and Jacques Pépin, famed chefs of La Pavillon (apparently Johnson frequented it when he wasn’t in the mood for another patty melt) in New York to devise his original menu.
Stewart is something of a pioneer in Southwest Colorado’s local food movement, having fostered farm to table long before it became the thing to do. “My family traveled a lot when we were kids; eating local and regional foods was always a highlight. I learned about local food traditions at an early age. For example, why we would eat blue crab in Maryland and lobster in Maine but not vice versa.”
Stewart and his sous chef, Neal Drysdale, butcher and smoke pigs, take delivery of whole lambs, make their own sausage and locally-sourced carpaccio, ferment and can, harvest oak for the grill, and make jams and jellies.
Upon first meetings, Stewart can seem reserved; almost shy. But the longtime staff would probably beg to differ. Restaurant kitchens can be a place of high anxiety. Turnover is high. But here, there is a light-heartedness to the line. Nobody leaves. Jim Deacy, the grill chef, has tended the oak fire (the oak is hand-gathered by the staff) for 20 years.
And the same goes for the farmers. Relationships go deep.
“He walks the talk,” Gabe Eggers of Twin Buttes Farm, says.