Ongoing staff shortages, revamped pandemic protocols, and supply chain disruptions have made 2021 a trying year for many of the city’s restaurants, from Korean fried chicken joints and Mediterranean fast-food chains to fine-dining establishments. For Denver chefs and restaurant owners, surviving these turbulent times and reaching the holidays with their doors open is a great achievement. To celebrate, many culinary pros in the Mile High City are connecting with loved ones over home-cooked meals. Here, we spoke with four to learn what recipes will be on their personal menus this festive season—and how you can make them at home.

Aminata Dia, Chef and Co-Owner of Le French:
Lobster and Bacon Mac and Cheese

At three-year-old Le French near Belleview Station, chef and co-owner Aminata Dia pays tribute to her French-Sengalese roots and introduces Denverites to the scenes of a classic Parisian bistro. The chic dining spot delivers casual yet elegant French fare, including house-baked tartes and croissants and classic dishes like escargot and fromage with baguettes.

But, during the holidays, the refinery is out the window and Dia’s house transforms into a rambunctious gathering place. She and her husband discovered Thanksgiving after moving to America nearly 20 years ago, when she channeled the try-as-you-go method of cooking she learned from her mother back in Senegal to produce an American staple with a twist. “I must have tried mac and cheese somewhere,” Dia says. “Now, my kids have since asked for it every year.”

Ingredients: 
1.5 cups dry pasta 
2 lobster tails
2 Tbs. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt
Pepper
2 cups water
1 cup bacon, diced
1.5 cups milk
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
4 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 cup lobster bouillon
1/2 tsp. of fine salt
1 pinch white pepper
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. Paprika
1/2 tsp. Cayenne pepper
1.5 cups gruyere cheese
Chopped parsley and chives for garnish

For the macaroni:

  1. Bring salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente; drain and set aside.
  2. Pull the lobster meat out of the tails, making sure to keep the bodies in one piece; rinse and pat them dry before seasoning and poaching them slowly in the butter until opaque throughout. Remove the cooked lobster and reserve for later. Use the lobster shells to make a fumé (seafood bouillon).
  3. For the lobster fumé (bouillon): Heat a little bit of butter in a large pan; add the shells and brown them with salt, pepper, and garlic to build flavor. Add diced shallots and cook until golden; deglaze with white wine, then add water and let the liquid simmer until desired consistency and flavor is achieved.

For the bacon béchamel sauce:

  1. Dice and render the bacon until crispy; then remove it and reserve. Use the same pot with the bacon fat and add butter to it. Once the butter is melted, add a spoonful of flour, and let it cook on low heat for about a minute or two.
  2. Add warm milk and cook the mixture while whisking for another five minutes or until it is fully cooked (Ami recommends making a thicker béchamel, then adding the lobster bouillon until the consistency is creamy). Season with a pinch of white pepper, paprika, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and gruyere cheese.
  3. To serve: Fold the pasta into the béchamel with half the bacon and lobster. Sprinkle on more gruyere, then top it with the rest of bacon and lobster and broil the dish until the cheese melts.

Quyen Trinh, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Anise Vietnamese Eatery:
Sautéed Dungeness Crab with Tamarind Sauce

Before opening Anise Vietnamese Eatery on Lincoln Avenue in the Golden Triangle two years ago, Quyen Trinh was studying at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder while simultaneously working part-time as a chef and taking care of her two kids. After the first few days of school, Trinh confessed to her husband and co-owner of Anise, Long Nguyen, that she wanted to quit. The hours were trying and she was having trouble understanding the instructor’s English.

“At first, I was very quiet in class,” Trinh says. But after a week, she was given the chance to cook for a small group, and everything changed. “I am not confident about my English, but I am very confident about my food,” she says. She graduated from the culinary school at the top of her class and opened her own restaurant, where she cooks the Vietnamese cuisine she loves most. This Christmas, Trinh is serving traditional Vietnamese street food—including this mouthwatering Dungeness crab with tamarind sauce—at home and in the restaurant.

Ingredients:
2 lbs. steamed Dungeness crabs
7 Tbs. tamarind paste
5 oz. water
1 cup sugar
5 Tbs. fish sauce
1 whole yellow onion (a white onion will also work)
5 whole jalapeño
2 Tbs. minced garlic
1 Tbs. salt
1/2 Tbs. chicken bouillon powder
3 Tbs. cooking oil
French baguette (optional)

For the tamarind sauce:

  1. Boil water and add the tamarind paste. After the tamarind is fully dissolved, add the sugar, salt, fish sauce, and chicken bouillon powder then bring the mixture to a boil. Set the sauce aside.

For the crabs:

  1. In a wok (or frying pan), heat cooking oil, then add minced garlic. Wait until garlic turns brown, then add sliced onion and sliced jalapeño. Sauté the onion and jalapeño for a few minutes, then add crabs.
  2. Sauté crabs for about 5 to 10 minutes or until they are fully heated. Pour sauce into wok and stir well to coat the crabs.
  3. To serve: Cut French baguettes into slices and use the sauce as a dip to be enjoyed on the side.

James Wallace, Culinary Director of Pizzeria Locale:
Yukon Gold Silky Mashed Potatoes 

Pizzeria Locale is a Colorado-born chain with five metro-area locations that has served Neapolitan-inspired pies to Coloradons since 2011. James Wallace perfected the craft of pizza making in Napoles, Italy, where he lived for six months in 2010 before becoming Pizzeria Locale’s opening chef the next year.

Prior to joining the team at Pizzeria Locale, Wallace was a chef at Frasca in Boulder for 17 years, where the staff held regular mini competitions to see who could make the most delicious mashed potatoes. Now, Wallace uses the techniques he perfected to produce a favorite amongst his family and friends: the silkiest mashed spuds ever. “There is a way to treat the basic ingredients of mashed potatoes to make them so much better,” he says.

Ingredients:
5 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
1 lbs. cubed butter
Salt
White pepper
3 cups warm heavy cream 

  1. Start by submerging the whole unpeeled potatoes in cold, salted water. Bring the water up to a simmer and let the potatoes cook (don’t let the water boil). Steam until tender for about two hours. Drain the potatoes and peel using a paring knife while hot.
  2. Use a potato ricer to mash the peeled potatoes into a large pot. Then press them through a fine mesh or use a dough scraper for extra creaminess.
  3. Add half the cream and whip the potatoes using a wooden spoon until silky. Add the butter and continue whipping the potatoes by hand. Add the rest of the cream and stir until everything is incorporated.
  4. Season with white pepper and salt.

Raquela “Rocky” Rose, Chef and Owner of Elita Foods Speciality Market and Kitchen:
Pat’s Sicilian Spaghetti

At Elita Foods in Stanley Marketplace, chef and owner Rocky Rose is the boss in her fast-casual Mexican-Mediterranean eatery and market’s kitchen. But at her home in Denver, her husband Patrick is the head chef. “You know when you get to go to Grandma’s house, and you know you’re gonna have something that fills your tummy and your soul?” Rose says. “That’s how Pat cooks.”

In March 2020, Stanley Marketplace in Aurora shuttered to comply with COVID-related dining restrictions—the same day Rose and her then boyfriend Patrick (the couple married in September 2021) received the keys to their new stall to launch Elita Foods in the complex. Pat grew up in a household of Italian chefs, so the two decided to hit the ground running by marinating meats, seasoning veggies, packaging homemade sauces, and stuffing sausages—steps they could do from home while anxiously awaiting the day they could serve customers. After Elita reopened over the summer, the business soon became a Stanley Marketplace favorite; and in November, Rose received Colorado Restaurant Association’s Exceptional Newcomer Award.

After Rose returns home from a late night at the cooking and managing the busy shop, Pat cooks up his famous Sicilian Spaghetti for a special meal—one that they also like to enjoy during the holidays.

Ingredients:
1 pack of DeCecco’s No. 12 Spaghetti
4–5 roma tomatoes (peeled)
5–6 cloves fresh garlic
1 can of anchovies in olive oil
1 Tbp. butter
1/8 cup of white wine
Block of parmesan cheese
1 pack of fresh basil
1 bunch of fresh parsley
Crushed red peppers

  1. Cook pasta for 10–12 minutes in a pot of boiling salty water. After about 9 minutes, take a coffee mug and save about 1/3 cup of the starchy salt water. Strain and set aside. Put the pot back on the stove.
  2. Make a small slit on the top of the roma tomatoes. In a separate smaller pot, boil water and drop the tomatoes in for 60 seconds. Pull them out, peel the skins, and set aside.
  3. Chop fresh garlic and anchovies, and put them in separate side bowls.
  4. Thinly slice the basil and set aside. Finely chop parsley and set aside.
  5. Heat a medium-size pot to medium to high heat. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on the pan and drop the garlic in. As soon as the garlic starts to brown, pour the peeled tomatoes in and stir frequently for 30 seconds. Add salt and pepper, then add the reserved starchy salt water.
  6. Add the pasta and stir frequently; let the pot get nice and hot and stir in the chopped anchovies and wine. Let it simmer and keep stirring frequently until the pasta has absorbed the sauce.
  7. To serve: Garnish with cracked black pepper, grated parmesan, crushed red peppers, fresh sliced basil, and chopped parsley (in that order).