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Peter Ho is, above all else, a globetrotter. When he was a high schooler, the South Korean native moved with his family to the United States, and after graduating, he took a slightly unexpected opportunity to live abroad: the United States Army.
“I joined the military because I like travel,” Ho says. His five-year post at a base in Germany allowed him to explore the country and surrounding ones like France and Italy, where he was introduced to their local cuisines. That sparked his decision to attend culinary school; in 2008, he entered a program at Le Cordon Bleu’s now-closed campus in Pasadena, California. Upon receiving his degree, Ho promptly whisked off to faraway cities, first moving to Chicago before taking jobs at high-profile restaurants like Restaurant Gordon Ramsey in London and Atera in New York, among other chef positions that had him working with Portuguese, Italian, British, and Japanese flavors.
Those experiences all inform Ho’s career here in Colorado, where he settled in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. After helming the kitchen at Rioja and consulting for local Korean fried chicken chain WingWok, he assumed the executive chef position at Boulder’s 13-year-old Oak at Fourteenth last January. His approach to the New American restaurant’s menu, which centers around wood-fired offerings, is multicultural but not “fusion” per se.
“I really respect every cuisine,” Ho says. “I try to keep it as classic as I can, but I also use ingredients from different cultures.” While you can still get tried-and-true Oak classics such as the hamachi crudo and the apple and kale salad, Ho’s culinary viewpoint is on display in an array of new creations. This winter, look for dishes like the roasted lamb chops, which are cumin-crusted (a nod to Middle Eastern flavors) and served with a parsley miso sauce and lamb belly dashi broth (which draw from Japanese cuisine).
We chatted with Ho about what inspires him about Colorado’s dining scene, as well as his favorite things to cook both in and out of the professional kitchen.
5280: What’s the dish you’re proudest of developing at Oak?
Ho: Last summer, I put a lot of tomato dishes on the menu [such as the Burrata di Stefano shared plate with tomatoes, peaches, and grilled peach vinaigrette]. All the tomatoes and peaches are actually local. We get them from farmers around here, like Speedwell Farm & Gardens and Red Wagon Farm. I’m really proud of myself to support the farmers around Boulder.
What’s your favorite aspect of Colorado’s food scene?
Diversity, definitely, and there’s more cuisines and different consumers coming to Colorado, for sure. There’s a lot of room to grow. And then there’s a good variety of local ingredients: mushroom, peaches, all that. I’m really surprised. Even beef and lamb, they’re all from Colorado; they’re some of the best ingredients in the whole U.S.
You mentioned that Denver offers many opportunities to start your own food business. If you had to start one right now, what would it be?
Boulder is one of the biggest college towns in Colorado, but I don’t see a lot of fun dining here. So I’d want to do some kind of Asian street food cuisine. Something cheap for the students, and a fun place where people come to drink.
What’s your go-to meal when you’re at home?
Pasta, ramen, or any kind of noodle. Something that I can cook in 15 to 20 minutes. So for example, I’ll take any kind of vegetable and just sweat it, and then I’ll add anchovy and toss it with the pasta, olive, and a little bit of chile flake. That’s it.
If you could cook for anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I have a two-year-old daughter right now. I mean, I’ve been cooking for her every day, but she’s too young to eat a multi-course menu. So probably my daughter [when she’s older].