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Denver chef named best restaurateur in the country by James Beard



Denver chef named best restaurateur in the country by James Beard

Two Colorado chefs and restaurateurs won gold Monday at the food industry’s “Oscars” and won top awards from the James Beard Foundation.

Chef Kelly Whitaker and partner Erika Whitaker, co-founders of Id Est Hospitality Group, earned the award for Outstanding Restaurateur among five finalists from across the country. Id Est features award-winning restaurants such as the Michelin-starred The Wolf’s Tailor and BRUTØ in Denver and Basta in Boulder, as well as the new Hey Kiddo in Denver.

Matt Vawter, owner of Rootstalk in Breckenridge, won the title for Best Chef in the Mountain Region — which includes Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming — from five finalists, including Denver’s chef Penelope Wong, co-owner of Yuan Wonton in Park Hill.

Owner Kelly Whitaker is pictured at The Wolf’s Tailor on Thursday, September 26, 2019. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz, JS)

“What a moment, holy crap…,” said Erica Whitaker in her acceptance speech. “When we founded Id Est, our daughter was one year old, and now we are just 10 days away from her 16th birthday, and she is here tonight…”

“…We own seven restaurants, but we have also been involved in so many different conversations about our food supply systems and have been advocates for food,” Kelly Whitaker added. “All these things are possible: owning restaurants, having a family and getting involved.

“This year alone we have contracted and built over 200 hectares of regenerative land with farmers, growing grains and milling flour. This doesn’t just apply to our tasting menu restaurants, it also applies to a pizza or a sandwich,” he continued.

Kelly Whitaker was previously nominated as a 2020 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Mountain Chef for Wolf’s Tailor and was also a 2023 Outstanding Restaurateur semifinalist. “We are not specifically chasing these awards, but we are certainly chasing the platform that this brings, and for that we know that this is a responsibility,” he said. “I feel a sense of struggle now more than ever.”

In his speech, Vawter thanked the James Beard Foundation for “recognizing what we do in our small mountain community in Breckenridge. I started cooking when I was 14 years old to help my parents pay the rent, and I’ve never looked back.”

After working with Denver restaurateur Alex Seidel — also a highly decorated James Beard Award winner — at Fruition and Mercantile Dining & Provision, Vawter opened Rootstalk in late 2020 in a renovated 1800s home. The restaurant, at 207 N. Main St., focuses on offering “elevated, everyday cuisine” featuring seasonal ingredients from local farmers and ranchers, house-made pasta and a seven-course tasting menu.