When my friend and former colleague, Ray Isle, executive wine editor for Food & Wine, passed through Denver last month we met for lunch at Rioja. The Houston native was curious to taste for himself how chef Jennifer Jasinski beat out two contenders from his hometown for this year’s James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest award.

Jasinski’s Spanish octopus farfalle gave us a glimpse of what might have earned her the celebrated nod. Isle told me that the entrée is just the type of dish that appeals to the Beard judges. (Without revealing any top-secret biographical history, let’s just say he’s the kind of guy who would know.) For the item, Jasinski hand-rolls farfalle noodles, which are gorgeously striped with bands of black squid ink and orange piquillo pepper pastas. She serves these artful “bow ties” in a ladle of parsley-garlic-caper emulsion and tops them with tender, briny slices of octopus, sliced Basque chiles, and crisped house-preserved lemons. “[The dish] hits a number of notes,” Isle says. “It takes some traditional ingredients and ideas and tweaks them in a smart, playful way. It blends two cuisines in a way that seems entirely natural, rather than forced. And, last but not least, it happens to be totally delicious. It’s one of those dishes that, if you eat out a lot, makes you wonder, ‘how cool—why hasn’t anyone done that before?’”

Wine pairing: If you want to sip as Food & Wine‘s wine editor did, order a bottle of the 2011 Pazo Señorans Albariño, a crisp, peach- and citrus-nuanced white from Spain’s Rias Baixas region.

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