Interview: chef Kelly Liken (Restaurant Kelly Liken)

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Chef Colorado


What does a dish have to be to go on your menu at Restaurant Kelly Liken?

On my menu, a dish just has to be seasonal, and it has to mean something. I’m really working on creating food that tastes like where it came from, and I want it to come from Colorado. I’m really concentrating on telling that story of Colorado farmers, ranchers and artisans through my dishes.

What’s the most recent story that you told on your menu, and what was your inspiration?

This elk carpaccio that we have here is a very good example. This elk is raised a few hours south of us. It’s raised as if it’s wild. It’s really a cool ranch. There are no fences or anything. The elk just roam free. We’re taking tabouili and brightening it up a bit. Elk can be very dark and deep, we want to take that and elevate that, brighten it up, so we put a little fresh herbs and lemon juice in that salad.

Do you have such a thing as a top selling dish at Restaurant Kelly Liken?

I do. My top telling dish is potato crusted Rocky Mountain trout filets. It’s really popular. I’ve been cooking it for so long that sometimes I’m like, “Ah, I want something new,” but the guests love it, and they come back over and over for it, so it’s the one thing I never take off my menu.

Why do you think that became the breakout dish?

Honestly, I don’t know. Part of it is that so much international clientele from all over the world is visiting Vail, Colorado, and when they think of Colorado, they think of trout. That’s part of it.

What do you look for when you’re hiring someone to work in your kitchen?

Passion, #1. 100% passion, desire, hard work. I can teach you to chop something perfectly or to sauté perfectly, but I can’t teach you the passion, I can’t teach you the work ethic.

Do you have any tests you use to gauge that?

We do. We bring people in and have them work with us for a day. We do have a skills test. It’s not so much a pass or fail, it gives us an idea of where you are on the scale, what we have to work with. Then we have them in the kitchen to work with us, so we can really see that work ethic, so we can see if they’re cleaning up after themselves and we can see how they’re treating the product.

What was the last meal that you cooked at home?

The last meal that I cooked at home was vegan chile rellenos, which doesn’t sound like a chef dish, but we’ve been playing around a lot with trying to come up with some creative vegan options for our guests who are vegetarian and vegan. Being in Colorado, it’s a very meat centric restaurant, a very meat centric culinary scene. We have a ton of athletes who are dining with us in the mountains, so we want to give them good options. My husband and I have been eating a lot of vegan dinners at home, trying to develop recipes.

Address: 12 Vail Road, Vail, CO 81657

Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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