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When Brendalee Vialpando first interviewed for the role of executive chef of Local Jones at Cherry Creek’s Halcyon hotel, she immediately knew it was where she wanted to work. The New Mexico–born chef had an extensive resumé, attending culinary school at the Art Institute in Santa Monica and working at kitchens in Las Vegas and the Bay Area. But when she relocated to Denver nine months ago, she wasn’t sure where her next culinary venture would take her—but the staff at Local Jones changed that
“After doing the interviewing, I was like, ‘Those are my people. I want to work with those people and be part of that team,’” recalls Vialpando of saying “yes” to the role.
Since joining Local Jones in March (known to frequent visitors as “LJ”), Vialpando has used her talent, experience, and passion for the culinary arts and hospitality industry to inject new life into the restaurant. Her first order of business: instating a female-forward culinary team.
“My goal is to create a positive kitchen culture, and to me that is all about diversity and having as many people contributing from different backgrounds as possible,” she says. “When I first started here, there were no female line cooks, and now I have three. It’s really important for me to create this balance in the kitchen to [change] how kitchens used to be run.”
In addition to beefing up the female talent in the back of house, Vialpando wanted to create a menu that complements the bright and fresh aesthetic of Local Jones’ indoor and outdoor spaces. LJ’s decor utilizes a clean, neutral color palette, and the food serves as an additional pop of color. Whether it be the vibrant reddish-orange smoked salmon plated atop a royal blue dish or golden-brown roasted chicken served alongside rainbow carrots, Vialpando wants guests to eat with their eyes first.
The restaurant debuted new menu items in the spring, including Vialpando’s renditions of bagels and lox—featuring house-made bagels, whipped cream cheese, a garlicky and acidic caper gremolata, and pickled red onions—as well as the classic cheeseburger—complete with house-made potato buns and pickles, locally sourced ground beef, smoked cheddar, and an herby burger sauce. More fresh craveable offerings are making their debut this fall, including a pan-seared salmon dish served with a rich mushroom cream and crispy fingerling potatoes.
5280 caught up with Vialpando to chat about what dish she recommends trying at LJ, the famed Colorado ingredient she enjoys cooking with, and the special person she’d love to cook for.
5280: What should folks order at Local Jones, and what is one thing that you want people to know about Local Jones’ menu?
They should come and order our fried chicken. I think it’s a really stellar dish. The accoutrements that come with it—the pickle juice glaze, hatch chile hot sauce, the coleslaw—it’s a really good dish. And there’s no fried chicken in our neighborhood, so I feel like that’s what people should come and try.
And then the second thing to know about Local Jones is that we want to be that neighborhood favorite that our community comes to for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you’re hungry at any point of the day. We’re here to make you food and give you a good experience. We have a great happy hour that we do seven days a week, which is very unique. We just want people to come and visit us, because they’ll come back if they do.
What is one thing that you believe people don’t appreciate enough about the Denver food scene?
I think that it has evolved so much and it’s still evolving. I think people don’t think it’s as diverse as it is. Being here for nine months, I’ve seen a ton of different types and styles of food, and I think it’s evolving. It’s becoming a major food scene. I think people need to get out there and try as many restaurants as they can.
What’s your favorite Colorado ingredient?
That’s a good question and a little bit of a hard one! I would say cooking with green chile is definitely one of the benefits of cooking in Colorado, because it’s such a great ingredient to use. So I would probably have to say green chile, but also there’s a really good community of farmers here. We worked [with them] all summer long and will continue to work with Esoterra Farms. They have been supplying us with beautiful vegetables and salad greens and I think [those are] really unique and great ingredients to have at our fingertips.
Whos your culinary idol and why?
I’m gonna say my culinary idol was the first chef that I worked for, Kazuto Matsusaka [at now-shuttered Beacon in Culver City, California], for many reasons. He opened my eyes to an amazing cuisine in Japanese cuisine, and he was also just a genuinely hospitable person, and that’s what I love about this industry. He would welcome you and shake your hand every single day. He was really encouraging; he really wanted to help you learn, and I really hope that that is something that I do and that I continue to carry on.
If you could cook for anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I would really love to cook for my grandma on my mom’s side. She passed when I was very young, and she never knew me as a cook.I would love to cook for her.