Ask A Chef is an on-going series in which 5280 poses a single question to a local culinary luminary.

In February, five Denver chefs, one local bar, and one Aspen restaurant were nominated for the prestigious James Beard Awards for excellence in the culinary field. With so many award-winners historically located on the coasts, our state is puffing with pride over the selectees. We asked Jeff Osaka, chef-owner of Twelve Restaurant and a candidate for the Best Chef Southwest category, about the continued rise of our restaurant scene.

5280: In your opinion, what about Colorado attracts so many talented chefs?

JO: People move here, including me, for a lifestyle change. I’m from L.A., and not that life is slower here, but you have room to breathe, it’s less congested. Denver is one of the country’s fastest-growing cities in other areas of commerce. That growth means that there is space opening for a market of diners as well. Before coming here, I did my homework: I saw that chefs like Frank Bonanno, Jennifer Jasinski [who won the Best Chef Southwest category last year], and Alex Seidel were experiencing growth, and creating a product that paved the way for people like me. They, and others, have smoothed the way and made my job easier by opening doors that have been putting the city on the map.

Update: This morning, March 18, the James Beard Foundation announced its list of finalists. The Little Nell in Aspen is a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine Program, and Denver author Adrian Miller‘s book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time is up for the Reference and Scholarship book award.