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Colorado sweeps James Beard nominations for best chef in the Mountain Region

Caroline Glover (Annette), Jose Avila (El Borrego Negro), Dana Rodriguez (Work & Class) and other high-profile chefs advanced as finalists.

Owner Jose Avila greets passersby as cook Chuy Garcia mans the meat for tacos al pastor at La Diabla Pozolería y Mezcalería on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. Avila has worked in many Denver restaurants during his 20 years in the city. Growing up in Mexico City, Mexico, Avila’s family owned a number of taco carts. Though he worked the flavorful job throughout his youth, Avila didn’t realize his passion for creating meals until he experienced just a single day of manual labor. After working just one day with his uncle, Avila quit and began working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. His career took off ultimately earning him the role of executive chef at Elway’s in Cherry Creek. With a vast array of experiences and a passion for his home country’s cuisine, Avila has given rise to the nondescript RiNo taqueria. The modest space boasts no marquee sign out front, rather, a small corn bag reading “Pozole, Mezcal, Tequila” blows in the breeze above the entryway. Modern art created by local artists lines the walls and is perfectly juxtaposed against statues of Michael the archangel casting Satan from Paradise straight from the Mexico city street fairs of Avila’s youth. In addition, vibrant light, color and musical samplings stretch from green wall to red wall to green wall and around again. While the space may feel abundantly full of flavor and style, Avila’s approach is one of modesty. Though he has sat atop the summit of Denver’s culinary scene during his storied career, Avila views himself simply as “the cook” in what is now being hailed by many as one of the Mile High City’s premier establishments.
Owner Jose Avila greets passersby as cook Chuy Garcia mans the meat for tacos al pastor at La Diabla Pozolería y Mezcalería on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. Avila has worked in many Denver restaurants during his 20 years in the city. Growing up in Mexico City, Mexico, Avila’s family owned a number of taco carts. Though he worked the flavorful job throughout his youth, Avila didn’t realize his passion for creating meals until he experienced just a single day of manual labor. After working just one day with his uncle, Avila quit and began working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. His career took off ultimately earning him the role of executive chef at Elway’s in Cherry Creek. With a vast array of experiences and a passion for his home country’s cuisine, Avila has given rise to the nondescript RiNo taqueria. The modest space boasts no marquee sign out front, rather, a small corn bag reading “Pozole, Mezcal, Tequila” blows in the breeze above the entryway. Modern art created by local artists lines the walls and is perfectly juxtaposed against statues of Michael the archangel casting Satan from Paradise straight from the Mexico city street fairs of Avila’s youth. In addition, vibrant light, color and musical samplings stretch from green wall to red wall to green wall and around again. While the space may feel abundantly full of flavor and style, Avila’s approach is one of modesty. Though he has sat atop the summit of Denver’s culinary scene during his storied career, Avila views himself simply as “the cook” in what is now being hailed by many as one of the Mile High City’s premier establishments.
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Six Colorado restaurants and chefs advanced as finalists for the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious Restaurant and Chef Awards, the organization announced Wednesday. And the Centennial State is guaranteed at least one win since local chefs swept the ballot in the Mountain Region category.

All five finalists nominated in the 2022 best chef in the Mountain Region category — which includes Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming — hail from the Front Range. They are:

  • Jose Avila of El Borrego Negro in Denver
  • Cody Cheetham of Tavernetta in Denver
  • Caroline Glover of Annette in Aurora
  • Dana Rodriguez of Work & Class in Denver
  • Eric Skokan of Black Cat Farm Table Bistro in Boulder

When the James Beard Foundation announced semifinalists last month, Colorado boasted 13 nominations, including in several nationally competitive categories such as outstanding restaurateur, outstanding chef and best new restaurant.

However, just The Little Nell in Aspen advanced in the nationwide pools: It’s up for outstanding wine program, running against The Four Horsemen (New York City), Frenchette (New York City), Maydan (Washington, D.C.) and Rebel Rebel (Sommerville, Mass.)

The 2022 James Beard awards are back after a two-year hiatus, during which the foundation reevaluated its nomination process to be more inclusive. In a statement, Tanya Holland, chair of the James Beard Awards Committee, touted this year’s list of finalists as “the most diverse” in the awards’ history.

“The awards are a great reminder that we are among innovators, entrepreneurs and trailblazers who represent a wide range of regions, cultures and cooking philosophies,” said Tanya Holland, chair of the James Beard Awards Committee. “And this year, in particular, is a great reminder of how incredibly diverse our industry is.”

The winners will be announced on June 13 during an in-person awards ceremony at Lyric Chicago. See the full list of nominees here.

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