In love—and in restaurants—timing is everything. For instance, when Kelly Jeun was cooking for chef Mark Ladner at New York City’s acclaimed Del Posto restaurant after culinary school, she didn’t enjoy working with Ladner’s new sous chef, Eduardo Valle Lobo, one bit. “She hated me,” Valle Lobo says. “I was so arrogant!” recalls Jeun. “I thought Eduardo was just the new meat cook; I was a hotshot, but in reality, I had a lot to learn. And then, one night, I borrowed Eduardo’s knife…and it was so sharp and beautifully honed that I couldn’t help but begin to respect him. I realized that maybe I could learn something from him.” Over time, that respect evolved into deeper feelings; the couple have worked and lived well together since 2011.
Their combined restaurant experience is peerless: After Del Posto, Jeun cooked at Eleven Madison Park, currently the best restaurant in the world; Valle Lobo has worked at Zuma in London and La Caravelle and DB Bistro Moderne in Manhattan. During Valle Lobo’s tenure as executive chef at Del Posto, it received four stars from the New York Times. And in 2013, the couple was invited by famous restaurateurs Joe and Lidia Bastianich to lead the kitchen at their Friuli-Venezia Giulia restaurant, Orsone Ristorante.
In fact, Jeun and Valle Lobo first met Frasca Food and Wine co-owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson at Orsone in early 2014—the latter were on a research trip for Frasca’s Friuli-inspired food and wine menus. At the time, Jeun and Valle Lobo had recently opened Orsone and were loving their life in a small Italian village, and Frasca was in good hands with chef Jared Sippel. But Stucky and Mackinnon Patterson were impressed by Jeun and Valle Lobo’s cooking and appreciation of the region’s native ingredients; Mackinnon Patterson says that he and Stuckey talked about the chefs often, musing that if they could somehow get them to return to the U.S., it would be great to work with them at Frasca. “But with Eduardo being from Spain,” says Mackinnon Patterson, “we assumed their aspirations would leave them in Europe, or at a small fine dining restaurant they’d create together somewhere.”
Meanwhile, Stuckey and Mackinnon Patterson began, very quietly, to search in earnest for a new chef for Frasca, someone with a deep understanding of Friulian cuisine. “Frasca is our baby, and we wanted someone at the level of Mark Ladner,” Stuckey says. “We wanted to give Frasca a rebirth of the same energy it had when Bobby and I worked on it every day, morning to night,” adds Mackinnon Patterson. The men worked with a headhunter for almost a full year and talked to several strong candidates, but no one felt like the right fit.
And then, in the summer of 2017, Stuckey’s cell phone rang. It was Ladner, calling to tell him that Jeun and Valle Lobo had left Orsone, moved back to the States, and were looking for a new opportunity. “[Ladner] said that if we could get them,” Stuckey recalls, “it would be the biggest restaurant news between New York City and Los Angeles.” The timing felt serendipitous.
Stuckey and Mackinnon Patterson moved quickly. Within a month’s time, they’d flown Jean and Valle Lobo to Boulder to introduce them to Frasca and the Colorado lifestyle. The couple returned in the fall, and by early December 2017, they’d settled in Boulder permanently as Frasca’s executive co-chefs, a first for the restaurant. “It’s so easy to communicate with them about what we’re trying to do because they lived it [in Friuli],” Mackinnon Patterson says. “They have such a high level of maturity, experience, poise, intelligence; they just get it.”
“It made a lot of sense for us to come to Frasca,” Jeun says, “not only for its reputation, but as the only Friulian restaurant in the U.S. We were very comfortable at Orsone and living in Italy was like a dream, but after a few years, we wanted a new challenge.” Valle Lobo chimes in, “Colorado reminds us a lot of Friuli, with similar weather, and the mountains, and people who are so warm and welcoming.” The couple has already begun making their mark on Frasca’s menu, stripping it of the French influences that had recently crept in and returning it to a full celebration of northern Italian ingredients, executed through techniques learned during their years at Del Posto and Orsone. “We just want to convey love with our food,” Jeun says.
Stuckey and Mackinnon Patterson feel as if the pipeline of talent they’ve nurtured at Frasca and Pizzeria Locale over the years—from Steve Redzikowski and Bryan Dayton (now of Acorn and Oak at Fourteenth) and Allison Anderson and Duncan Holmes (Beckon-Call) to Brian Lockwood and Erica O’Neal (Eleven Madison Park) and Sam Rethmeier (Republique), to name just a few—is finally beginning to reverse, bringing high-level players back to their brands. Another example: Justin Williams, formerly of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, who moved to Denver to become Tavernetta’s general manager.
“It’s like the Wayne Gretzky move from Edmonton, Canada, to Los Angeles in 1988,” quips Mackinnon Patterson of Jeun and Valle Lobo’s move to Frasca. “We’ve taken an approach of over-investing in our staff. Even though we had a great team at Frasca before, you have to do the right thing for the brand and your people and know that it’ll all work out.” And the timing, of course, has to be just right.