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Since the announcement of Colorado’s Michelin Guide in June, chefs and diners across the state have waited with bated breath to find out which restaurants would earn one, two, or three Michelin stars—often considered to be the most prestigious culinary distinction in the world. Now, Colorado’s first crop of the coveted award is out.
On Tuesday, Michelin awarded five restaurants with one star: Beckon, Brutø, and the Wolf’s Tailor in Denver, Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, and Bosq in Aspen. These starred restaurants and Colorado’s Michelin Guide at large put the state “on the map as a culinary destination,” said Colorado Tourism Office director Timothy Wolfe at Tuesday’s ceremony. But regular stars shouldn’t be the only award that grabs out-of-towners’—and locals’—attention.
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First awarded in 2021, the Michelin Green Star specifically recognizes restaurants with an outstanding commitment to sustainable gastronomy. According to Michelin, these establishments make strides in anything from ingredient provenance to waste disposal practices to charitable and educational projects. While many awardees work closely with growers or grow food themselves, Michelin does not judge the Green Star along on any specific criteria, defining “outstanding commitment” on a case-by-case basis.
If you’re looking purely at the numbers, the Green Star is actually more difficult to acquire than a regular Michelin star. Colorado’s four Green Star restaurants join only 17 other American eateries with the same distinction, 15 of which are in California. As a comparison, there are 180 one-Michelin-star restaurants in the United States (including those revealed at the September 12 ceremony) plus 33 two-Michelin-star and 13 three-Michelin-star restaurants.
For those of us living in the Centennial State, it shouldn’t be too surprising that our local restaurants are garnering recognition for their environmental sustainability. Many Colorado eateries are beloved for their locally sourced, farm-to-table menus, while others make tremendous efforts to reduce single-use packaging or minimize food waste. But what sets the four Green Stars apart from the rest?
“You could think of our philosophy [as] turning lemons into lemonade,” says Eric Skokan, chef-owner of 11-year-old Bramble & Hare. He and his wife Jill also run the 425-acre Black Cat Farm to produce over 90 percent of the restaurant’s ingredients. While his farm has dozens of sustainability-related projects, Skokan points to maintaining nutrient-dense soil—which often entails a two-year process of animal grazing and cover cropping between edible crop harvests—as a unique aspect of his operation.
“I have imported a soil amendment [materials used to improve soil quality] only two times in 15 years,” Skokan says. “The norm for a conventional farm is to bring in soil amendments three times in a growing season.”
Farming isn’t the end-all-be-all to the Green Star. Brutø, the Wolf’s Tailor, and Blackbelly Market work closely with local growers like Esoterra Culinary Garden to nab seasonal, hyperlocal produce; Michelin specifically recognized Blackbelly for limiting food waste through its whole-animal butchery program. In general, Skokan believes that environmentally sustainable food production is harder for dining establishments to achieve in Colorado’s high-mountain desert climate than in more temperate states like California (the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S.). That makes Colorado’s acquisition of four Green Stars even more impressive.
“I think that [the state’s high proportion of Green Stars] has a lot to do with the values of our community… quality of life, concern about the environment. You end up with a group of restaurants that are really responsive to the community,” Skokan says.
Humility seems to be another one of those values. Skokan highlights Bramble & Hare’s chef de cuisine Heraclio Garza Silva, who started as a dishwasher for Skokan 19 years ago, as the person who ultimately translates Black Cat’s sustainability practices to delicious plates for diners, day in day out. “We do it because we believe in it,” says Skokan. “To have this spotlight shone on us in Colorado of all places… is otherworldly.”
Find the full list of Colorado Michelin star winners here.