When Hugh O’Neill sold Hugh’s New American Bistro, his namesake restaurant on South Pearl Street, in 2000, he left 15 years in restaurants behind. But he didn’t leave the food industry. Instead, in 2001, he and his wife, Ionah deFreitas, started the beloved St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop in Highland. When they’re not peddling gourmet cheeses, the couple retreats to their cozy, eclectic home that’s built for no-fuss entertaining. “Restaurants make me nervous now,” says O’Neill, who remembers the stress and chaos of the kitchen all too well. These days, he and deFreitas prefer to handpick ingredients and cook at their home—which extends to an outdoor patio and garden with fresh produce, grills, and an outdoor oven.
Cross-Cultural Cooking O’Neill is from Ireland, his wife’s parents are from Brazil, and the duo embraces cooking styles from everywhere in between. O’Neill spent time teaching English in Spain and traveled to Morocco, where he discovered tagines (a name for Moroccan stews and the special pots used to cook them). He uses two of the pots, one quite large, for roasting vegetables, meats, and spicy, Moroccan-style foods.
Tried-and-True O’Neill uses a large, white enamel, 1940s apartment stove that “a friend of ours was throwing out.” With an oven, a broiler, and three (out of four) working burners, it’s the centerpiece of his kitchen. For larger feasts, O’Neill supplements with a small, newer convection oven.
Budding Photographer Three elegant black-and-white photographs of wild sunflowers with the Denver skyline in the background hang, facing the high kitchen table. O’Neill took the photos himself.
Many Places to Cook The patio houses a converted outdoor fireplace with ornate metalwork and an open fire pit used to roast chicken, vegetables, and other savories. O’Neill has used the fire pit to make paella for up to 30 people at a time.
Cuts Like A Knife A 1940s carbon steel, hand-hewn French Sabatier knife with a carved rosewood handle is O’Neill’s favorite kitchen “gadget.” He found it on eBay. “I bid on Super Bowl Sunday a few years back. I was the only bidder, so I got a good price,” he says. “Although it feels heavier [than stainless steel] in your hand, as soon as you start to cut with it, it feels lighter and much more flexible.”
Quick Tips: “Always buy good butter and salt,” O’Neill says. As for cheese: “Don’t be intimidated by it. It’s a peasant’s food, a staple.”
Late Summer Chicken Broth
This healthy, light, and refreshing chicken soup is a great way to use all the greens from the garden.
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 5–6 cloves garlic, slivered
- Greens (chard, spinach, kale, cabbage, beet tops, scallions—the more variety, the better), washed and chopped
Topping (per bowl):
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice from half a lemon, freshly squeezed
- Black pepper
- Sea salt
- Pecorino Romano, grated
Bring chicken stock to a boil. Heat a dollop of olive oil in a separate pot and add garlic; allow garlic to soften gently over low heat. Add greens and the hot stock. Simmer together for just under a minute. Divide among four bowls. Add a generous swirl of olive oil and the lemon juice to each. Top with black pepper, salt, and cheese. Serve piping hot. (Variation: O’Neill suggests adding pancetta, shredded chicken, or slivered hot peppers.)