On the surface, not much has changed at Apple Blossom, the two-year-old restaurant inside the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver which transitioned in ownership last December. The centerpiece mural of the eatery’s namesake fruits and blossoms remains, as well as the menu’s commitment to using seasonal ingredients, a mission spearheaded by former owners Paul and Aileen Reilly, who still own and operate Uptown’s Coperta.

But under new head chef Adrian Faison, who took over the kitchen in mid-January, diners will spot new casual dishes with hints of Southern flair. The North Carolina native grew up on a small animal and vegetable farm and first learned to cook from his grandmother. After attending culinary school, he built his career at hotel restaurants in his home state and, starting in 2019, the Denver metro area, where he’s taken up residence at the Marriott Westminster and the Ritz-Carlton Denver.

The interior of Apple Blossom. Photo courtesy of Apple Blossom

Now at Apple Blossom, Faison is debuting soul-warming dishes such as crisp-tender smoked hot wings, zesty blue crab cakes with spicy remoulade, and house ravioli with charred radicchio, golden raisins, basil, and Parmesan cream. As for seasonal ingredients, he often showcases them through his elegant sauce work. Case in point: the bright green mustard gremolata, a tangy, parsley-forward smear that sings alongside flaky salmon, buttery maitake mushrooms, and crispy roasted potatoes.

“I always believe that you don’t have to have the most expensive ingredients to make the best food,” he says, “as long as things are fresh and they’re local… and it’s made with love.”

We caught up with Faison to learn about growing up with farm-to-table cooking, his favorite dishes to make, and how family influences the flavors on his plates.

5280: You grew up on a farm in North Carolina. Tell me what that was like.

I grew up on my grandmother’s farm in Cofield. We had hogs, we had chickens, we had rabbits. So whatever we grew in the garden is what we pretty much ate. We did have a slaughterhouse not too far from where I grew up, and we were able to get meat from there as well. But we had a lot of acres. Me and my siblings had a lot of fun growing up down there.

You learned to cook with your grandma when you were eight years old. What did you make with her?

Cakes. She always made all of her desserts from scratch, so I made a lot of cakes with her. And one of the things that I want to start bringing [to Apple Blossom], which is not on the menu yet, is bread pudding. I have been known in North Carolina for my bread puddings. I’ve made all kinds—every sort you can think of—and my biggest seller in North Carolina was my Cinnamon Toast Crunch bread pudding, which was inspired by the cereal, but I made all the ingredients in house. Hopefully I can bring that to the game here.

Describe your perfect Colorado weekend—if you’re not in the kitchen, of course.

To be perfectly honest, just being around my wife and my children and going out and enjoying life. As long as I’m hanging out with my three kids and my wife, I’m happy. My family loves going to parks and hiking and camping. So we’re in the mountains a lot, especially around Blackhawk.

If you could cook for anybody, who would it be and why?

For me, it would be my father. I just lost him last November the day before Thanksgiving due to tuberculosis. So he would be the one person I want to cook for again. He was a Southerner just like me, so he loved anything dealing with pork. If I could, I would make him pulled pork. He loved pulled pork sandwiches.

Any plans to bring more Southern-inspired foods to Apple Blossom?

There’s a place in North Carolina called the Pit, and I want to bring their type of flavorings out here. One of the dishes that I am doing for brunch is purple shrimp and grits. I wanted to bring a little bit of a Southern flair but upscale to Denver. And one of the biggest sellers that we’ve had during brunch is our sesame hot chicken sandwich.

Sample Faison’s new Apple Blossom menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on weekdays, and for brunch on weekends. 1776 Champa St.

Riane Menardi Morrison
Riane Menardi Morrison
Riane is 5280’s former digital strategy editor and assistant food editor. She writes food and culture content. Follow her at @riane__eats.