While Frasca Food & Wine executive chef Rob Hurd is the mastermind behind the Boulder restaurant’s elegant Fruilano cuisine, the Michigan native grew up on very different fare. He was raised on Grosse Ile Township, a small island on Lake Erie, eating the likes of kielbasa and sauerkraut, meatloaf, and other home-style dishes—and he remembers the joy of gathering around the table with his family for a nightly feast. “I didn’t grow up eating any gourmet sense of food,” he says. “But what I did grow up with is a homemade meal every day at the table with the family. And I think that was an important part of it: feeling the love through nurturing and having someone take care of you.”

Frasca executive chef Rob Hurd. Photo by Mike Thurk

This is the feeling Hurd hopes to recreate for diners at Frasca, where warm hospitality and shared multi-course experiences are part of the 17-year-old restaurant’s DNA. In May, he took over the northern Italian restaurant’s kitchen after stints at esteemed restaurants in San Francisco, Napa Valley, New York, and Denver’s own Tavernetta. And his transition couldn’t be more timely: Frasca was named one of America’s Favorite Restaurants by the New York Times earlier this month. Here, we caught up with Hurd to chat about life on the lake, why he’d love to make cassoulet for Anthony Bourdain, and what’s on the menu at Frasca right now.

5280: How does your childhood in the Great Lakes area influence your cooking?
Rob Hurd: I grew up fishing every day, throughout the summer and winter. There’s also a very big hunting community, and I grew up duck hunting a bit. So I learned how to take things from the land and process and utilize them… Then when I was [cooking in] northern Michigan and working with local producers, people were pulling fish right out of the Lakes that I would be serving in the restaurant. That made me respect it way more and start to understand and really love seasonal changes and shifts. It’s a big part of my cooking.

What are some of your favorite Colorado ingredients to prepare?
We just came off an amazing porcini season. It was definitely such a pleasure to be able to get them from Evergreen at 10,000 feet, get them delivered right after they were harvested that morning at 9 a.m., and then they’re on your plate. That’s the kind of cooking I love most. [This fall], we’ll also have apples and chestnuts, which I grew up with and will play a big part in the menu. I’m also really excited for wild boar, duck, pheasant game birds…and truffles. 

What should diners look forward to on Frasca’s fall menu, which launched last week?
One thing to look for is a very Friulian pasta shape called žlikrofi. It’s very close to scarpinocc, which is like a little shoe-shaped pasta. We’re going to get some farm apples and coal roast them in Pizzeria Locale’s pizza oven [next door] and have a little žlikrofi with coal-roasted apples and fresh-grated horseradish. And we’re going to do a chestnut and truffle risotto. I am excited to bring back these traditional ingredients from Friuli [like polenta and rice] because when a lot of people think of northern Italy, they think red sauce and pasta.

When you’re not at Frasca, where and what do you like to eat?
Happy hour at Tavernetta is where [my family and I] go a lot. I also like the small-plate section at Ash’kara, and being able to share things with the table is just a great feeling. And because my wife and I are both from Michigan, on occasion we get Detroit-style pizza from Blue Pan. At home, I am pescetarian, predominantly vegetarian, just because that’s what I enjoy eating. I’m not against eating meat. I just love eating vegetables and beans and lentils, and we’ll get fish on occasion. 

If you could prepare a meal for anyone, living or deceased, who would they be?
I would like to cook bigger spreads for my family. But if you’re looking for a celebrity figure, it’d be Anthony Bourdain… I would just love to sit down and have a meal and talk about life. I didn’t realize how he was always there while I was going through my culinary career until he wasn’t. And that kind of, I think, shook everybody in the industry. So I would love to cook a pot of cassoulet, have a baguette, maybe some very acidic farm greens with it and just sit and talk.

1738 Pearl St., Boulder

Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to oversee all of the magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.