Kelly Liken is a Pittsburgh native who graduated at the top her class at the Culinary Institute of America and eventually moved west to Vail, opening Restaurant Kelly Liken in 2004. She and husband Rick Colowitz, who runs front of house and directs the wine program, have found considerable success with their Rocky Mountain-focused, regional American restaurant. I met Liken on April 6 at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Lexus Grand Tasting, and the potential astrophysicist shared several culinary insights.
Was it a given that you would become a chef, or did you consider other careers?
No, I actually studied Astrophysics at the University of Colorado. It was not a given, but when I was in school I cooked to make money, because I was a terrible waitress, and I fell in love with it. From the moment I was in a professional kitchen, at the age of 19, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living. Growing up, I wanted to be more on the science end.
Astrophysics, how does that help you cook?
Math is very helpful. People think that’s a crazy answer, but we do so much math in the kitchen and being able to calculate things really quickly in my head helps. Other than that, it doesn’t really help.
What was that very first night like in a kitchen when you were 19?
I tell people this and they don’t believe me. Honestly, from the moment I put that knife in my hand, and I was just making green salads, my hands knew what to do. It’s like I was born to be in the kitchen. It was really an epiphany.
What was the restaurant?
It was the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, which is a little seafood restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I’ve heard good things about Pittsburgh, I’ve just never been.
It’s a great city. People are always surprised by it.
What does a dish have to be to go on your menu at Restaurant Kelly Liken?