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Eating at Brutø’s tasting counter inside LoDo’s Dairy Block feels less like dining out and more like having supper at a close friend’s abode. That is, if your friend is a professional chef with Latin American roots, a love of Japanese ingredients and techniques, and a talent for showcasing Colorado’s seasonal bounty. “I want diners to feel like they’re coming into my living room and having a fabulous dinner party,” says executive chef Michael Diaz de Leon, whose parents are from Mexico City.
To create that vibe, the native of El Paso, Texas, and his team bustle around the hearth-oven-centered open kitchen to pamper guests with a multicourse, omakase-style meal ($85; reservations recommended) complemented by thoughtfully curated wine and cocktail pairings. Since Brutø chef-owner Kelly Whitaker tapped Diaz de Leon to run the 2.5-year-old, 16-seat restaurant in November 2020, the chef has curated specialties—such as freshly milled masa tacos topped with grilled branzino, uni, corn miso sauce, chicory, smoke-kissed salmon roe, and peppery hoja santa leaf (pictured)—that are both upscale and approachable. “I’m feeding you things that I would feed my family and friends,” he says. “When you’re the host, you cook things that you love.”
5 Questions for Michael Diaz de Leon
5280 Magazine: How does the food you ate growing up influence your career?
Michael Diaz de Leon: My mom cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So we always had just really good food at the house—and on the weekends, Hispanics love to get together and have cookouts. For anything that they can celebrate, they’ll throw a party… My uncles would always grill, and my aunts would make fresh tortillas for the cookouts and guisado, which are like stews, and tamales on the holidays. I grew up in a really culturally rich food environment my whole life—so just seeing that always inspired me to cook.
After a few years of cooking other cuisines—including Southern and Japanese—for different restaurants at the beginning of your career, what inspired you to dive back into crafting Mexican fare?
After a few years of dabbling in different kitchens, I did an internship in Mexico City [where I realized] how lucky I was to have Mexican food as my background because it’s just so rich in history and tradition and everything else. And that’s when I really started to embrace my roots. And it wasn’t until 2018 when I really started to really cook Mexican food again just because I felt really inspired and I felt like I had to tell [stories about the cuisine] because I owe that to my parents. I owe it to my community and to my ancestors, and I embraced it.
What are your favorite Colorado ingredients to cook with?
Stone fruit in the summer in Colorado is out of this world. I love tomatoes…and all the beautiful brassica that comes up. And in the fall, all the root vegetables—so sunchokes and radishes and carrots and squashes. Summer and fall are my favorite times to cook with Colorado produce because that’s when you have the best growing times.
Where do you eat when you’re not at Brutø?
I’m a big fan of having dim sum at Star Kitchen anytime I get to go. Vinh Xuong Bakery does banh mi that are out of this world…Pho 75 is great. I love going to Lafayette and eating at Teocalli Cocina. I think that they’re doing a really good job out there…I’ve been going to Somebody People a lot, too. I think what they’re doing with vegan food is just phenomenal.
If you could entertain three people—living or dead—who would they be? What would you make?
I would have a dinner party with Stevie Nicks, Prince, and Anthony Bourdain. And I would make fried chicken and drink mezcal and natural wine— just like that. I mean, come on: Anthony Bourdain, Stevie Nicks, and Prince [are] some of the most interesting people in the world. Anthony Bourdain is just huge inspiration of mine; Prince is one of the best artists of all time; and Stevie Nicks is just a goddess of rock and roll. And I know how to cook really good fried chicken because of all that time I spent working the Southern restaurant [early in my career].
1801 Blake St.