For its sixth year, the Boulder International Film Festival will present its CineChef competition, the popular mashup of the cinematic and culinary worlds which will take over Rembrandt Yard March 5, kicking off a packed weekend of cinema in Boulder.
This year’s event pits Front Range kitchen luminaries against each other with a theme of “Battle of the Sexes: Men vs. Women Chefs,” featuring a formidable lineup.
At CineChef, participating chefs will craft original dishes inspired by their favorite films. Attendees will be able to cast their ballots to determine a winner while enjoying live music, wine, beer and dessert from Boulder-based Shamane’s Bake Shoppe.
The 2019 theme of CineChef was “Badass Women Chefs,” showcasing an all-female roster of participants representing both Denver and Boulder eateries.
But in this year’s battle, the female bench features defending 2019 CineChef champ Linda Hampsten Fox, the chef and owner of The Bindery in Denver. Also representing the Mile High City will be Becca Henry, executive chef at ChoLon Modern Asian in Stapleton.
From Boulder comes hometown favorite Natascha Hess, the chef and owner of The Ginger Pig, alongside “Top Chef” finalist Carrie Baird. Baird recently resigned her post as executive chef and partner at Denver’s popular Italian eatery Bar Dough and in early March will open Rose’s Classic Americana at Boulder’s Rosetta Hall. Baird and Hess have also recently partnered up, forming a new restaurant group called “That’s What She Said.”
While chef Hampsten Fox’s eatery is located in Denver, she’s not without Boulder roots. She attended the University of Colorado Boulder after growing up in New Jersey, and it was here in town where she studied fine art. But she said, “food was always on my mind,” and one of her college jobs was serving as a hostess at the Boulderado’s now-defunct Catacombs (now Licence No. 1). Eventually she started her own small business in Boulder, Heart and Hand Catering.
Spending years abroad in Europe and in Mexico broadened her culinary horizons, Hampsten Fox said. From mushroom hunting in the Swiss Alps to studying under chefs that ranged in experience from the classically trained to cooks in humble eateries that boasted family recipes, Hampsten Fox said these experiences helped broadened her culinary horizons. More recently, she’s cooked for the likes of Jane Goodall and Nancy Pelosi. In November of 2018, she released a cookbook, “The Bindery: A Collection of Recipes.”
But perhaps the greatest influence on Hampsten Fox’s culinary career is her family, she said. She described them as “a hard working immigrant family.” She cited her parents’ tradition of taking her out to a nice restaurant for her birthday as a formative experience — along with her mother’s diverse collection of recipes.
All of these experiences inform her work at The Bindery in Denver, which she describes as as “an all-day eatery,” featuring pastry and bistro-style breakfasts, “casual fine-dining at night and an insane brunch.” Sustainability is also a key feature of her restaurant, which relies heavily on recycled materials and green building systems. For her CineChef dish, she said she plans, perhaps unsurprisingly, to cook octopus from Spain, Aguachile-style, a ceviche-like preparation that will feature tart and spicy flavors with shishito peppers, hearts of palm and garbanzos. She said her film inspiration for the dish came from Boulder filmmaker Jeff Orlowski’s 2017 film “Chasing Coral,” a documentary that spotlights the ocean’s vanishing coral reefs.
On the male side of the equation, all of the competitors hail from Boulder eateries: Laurent Mechin, executive chef and culinary director at the St. Julien Hotel and Spa, John Platt, chef and proprietor of Riffs Urban Fare, Chris Royster, executive chef and partner at Flagstaff House, and Roy Benningfield, culinary director of Salt.
Benningfield may be a first-time competitor at CineCHEF, but he’s a longtime fixture among the Boulder dining scene. Benningfield worked at the recently closed Pepper the Noshery before Salt, and he has brought over to Salt some of his more popular dishes he prepared at Pepper. While this is also his first competitive event, he said he has made the final interview round for two TV shows, “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Chopped.”
Raised in northeast Colorado, Benningfield said he began his career washing dishes at the age of 15. His credentials include Boulder stints at The Med, Brasserie Ten Ten, Carelli’s and the Boulder Broker (during its heyday). His formal culinary education steeped him in the rigors of classical European technique, and he said he’ll likely draw upon this expertise for his CineChef preparation.
At first, he said he thought he’d craft a shrimp course inspired by Forrest Gump, but said he realized that might be too generic.
“I think I’ll do something inspired by The Hundred-Foot Journey, maybe a combination of classic French and Indian influences,” Benningfield said.
But regardless of what dish he prepares and how he does, he notes,“I’m really excited to be a part of this event. I’ll do my best, but just being able to work with these chefs will be awesome.”
If you go
What: Boulder International Film Festival CineCHEF
When: 5:30-7 p.m.Thursday, March 5th
Where: Rembrandt Yard Art Gallery and Event Center, 1301 Spruce St., Boulder
Tickets: $100 general admission, $145 Amuse Bouche Champagne Preview ticket, which features a 30-minute early entrance, a glass of Coppola sparkling wine and a gift.