When chef/restaurateur Justin Cucci (the man behind Linger and Root Down) opened Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox last April, Denverites were buzzing—mostly about the decor. The historical building, once home to a brothel, boasts a sultry boudoir vibe, swanky Moroccan-style speakeasy lounge, stylish stage (with a funky backdrop of transistor radios), and various unexpected reclaimed elements (like the pinball machine top bar). Yet many wondered if the grandeur of the multilevel space and its draw of live entertainment would upstage the culinary offerings. Luckily, under the guidance of executive chef Jeremy Kittelson (and culinary director Daniel Asher), the eclectic “gastro-brothel” menu, heavy on global influences and organic ingredients, more than does the space justice.
Kittelson, an Iowa native, has worked in kitchens at acclaimed Chicago fine-dining haunts Vong and Blackbird, where he honed his attention to technique, flavor, and creativity. But the Scottsdale Culinary Institute alum’s initial foray into the world of food revolved around holidays growing up, where his Scandinavian/Norwegian family prepared traditional dishes like lefse and Swedish meatballs. While the clean and precise flavors of Scandinavian cuisine still influence his cooking style today, he’s also deeply influenced by environmental consciousness. Read on for his take on sustainability.
5280: When you dine at an Edible Beats restaurant, it’s clear that some thought was given to the sourcing of ingredients, and that there’s a sort of standard there. What’s your approach to sustainability as a chef?
JK: We always try and do the vegetable-forward thing. I’ve been reading and listening to the Third Plate [by New York chef and food activist Dan Barber]. The size [of proteins] is going to shift in the future. That’s kind of the mindset—how can we get more vegetables in here? How can we make whatever we’re doing more sustainable? What’s happening to our oceans and what’s happening to our seafood, it’s legitimate, and you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.
It really comes down to economics. When you have restaurants that do millions of dollars in revenue, their purchasing power goes up. You can say “this is what we demand, this is what we have to have.” That forces the big businesses, like the broad lining Syscos, the Shamrocks, to say “hey, we’re not bringing this garbage in our doors anymore.” [We’ll say] “You have to find us a natural product, you have to find us an organic product.” That’s one of the ways you can really make change other than saying “we want to be farm to table.” We do it with our dollars, and what we spend. I think of Colorado restaurants, and I’m not trying to diss anybody, but when I think of true farm to table restaurants I really think of like, two. You’ve got Fruition, and you’ve got Black Cat. Those are the two guys who have the farms. I think at Edible Beats we try to make a different impact. I’ll use Linger as an example: two of our top selling dishes are a taco and a slider. But the short rib and ground chuck for those dishes both come from a company called Ranch Foods, or Callicrate Beef. So we’re not just buying tenderloin that the animal has two of. We’re buying the whole animal and we’re putting that on the plate.
No matter what impact you’re trying to make for the environment, it’s percentages. Are you going to stop driving your car, are you going to stop using electricity? No. It’s like, can I use less? Are we a hundred percent? No. Do we make the effort to try to go in that way? Definitely, and for restaurants of our volume, it’s important that we try to take those steps.