Christine Vazquez’s Denver Diet

From the minute I met Christine Vazquez, co-founder of Cake Agency (among other things), I was intrigued. This smart, authentic, and independent woman has an incredibly thoughtful heart who loves to bring people together, most likely over a delicious meal. She has centered her career in Colorado on the growing food culture we have here. Together with Heather Okimoto (editor in chief of Denver Style Magazine), she is launching a podcast, The Denver Hustle. In anticipation of the launch of the podcast, I asked her to kick off a series that I’m excited about called the Denver Diet. I love hearing about where people choose to eat, the people they hang out with and the community they’ve built for themselves here in Colorado. I hope you enjoy this much as a have!

Christine Vazquez

Hi, I’m Christine Vazquez. My entire life revolves around food. I’m either cooking, eating in restaurants, ordering food in, but I’m always eating. Food is life. It’s connection.

Thursday, November 8th

This morning I’m in Boulder. I used to spend about equal time in Denver & Boulder, but now, I’m here maybe once a month or so. We have a couple of Boulder clients, so I do come to visit them, and I’m lucky to have some good friends who also live here. My man works for Escoffier, so I was lucky to get a private tour of their Boulder campus today, which was such an exciting experience. To see these students learning hands-on, with world-class instructors, was something I’ll never forget. I got to taste some ravioli and focaccia that a student was perfecting, too. That was fun.

I needed to get some work done, so popped into the café next door, Caffè Sole. The moment I saw their pastry case, I knew they were legit. I ordered the most dramatic and delicious veg quiche from it, and found a seat at the counter. It had this insane layer of cheese baked on the top, which felt like a gift from the Universe. A gentleman pulled up a chair and we worked side by side for a while, when he asked what I did for a living. I explained that I help build brands and tell their stories, and he told me he was a professor at the University of Colorado, and then told me the story of this place. That he lives nearby, and has been coming here for more than 20 years. That the two guys in the kitchen hail from Mexico and the Mexican food they put out is as authentic as you’ll find anywhere in the area. His face lit up telling me that the owner has a passion for jazz and brings in world-class jazz musicians on the weekends year-round in an ongoing program called One Thousand Nights. That this spot is packed on those evenings; a true community hub. To me, this encompasses what is so exciting about restaurants and cafes and bars. They are the living rooms of our cities, our communities. This very conversation was an example.

It just so happens, though we didn’t plan it in advance to coincide with this piece, that I had lunch with the wonderful Annie Bloj at the equally wonderful Brasserie Ten Ten while in town. We each ordered quintessentially French dishes — she, a Niçoise salad, and I, bouillabaisse. The butter alone at this place is a joyful revelation, and it’s always served with a small loaf of sliced French bread to begin the meal. This is a sister restaurant to The Med across the street, and they have their own expansive in-house bakery there, which supplies both, among others in town. I had my 40th birthday party here, I love it so much. I wore a beret. It was a whole thing. I always try to schedule lunch, happy hour or dinner with a Boulder-based friend or colleague while in town. You’re reading this on Annie’s site, and she is someone who cares about and is rooted in community; we share that in common. Our conversations are always meaningful and honest and I appreciate that so much about them.

Morin, from a mind-bogglingly talented team, helmed by celebrated Denver chefs Max MacKissock and Blake Edmunds, has been one of the most anticipated openings in Denver this year. Everyone was buzzing about what it would be like. If Denver would support a French restaurant like this. How would the interior look and feel ( a big question in a city that is casual by its very nature ). This is my third visit, and they’ve just been open for a month or so. I’m drawn to it. One of the members of the leadership team, and considered one of the top beverage and hospitality pros in the city, Kevin Burke, is a dear friend, and we were in great hands all night. We ordered the radish dish to begin. House-made date bread, piled with French butter, radishes, and edible flowers. It is such a pleasure to eat. Next, the bone marrow with onion caramel, which was basically bone marrow creme brûlée. Out of this world. Extraordinary. Ethereal. Aligot, which is a French potato dish of essentially whipped potatoes with cheese added. Here, they offer a black truffle supplement, which naturally had to be done. They shaved 10 gorgeous grams of truffle over the top and it’s an indulgence worth every dollar and calorie. The pork chop with grilled cabbage and smoked apple butter was perfection. I will never forget the taste of that smoked apple butter. For dessert, another French classic, Mont Blanc. And a macaron and caramels from their petit fours menu. If it sounds as though I’m smitten, it’s because I am.

Friday, November 9th

I’m in Golden for the weekend — sometimes you just need a change of scenery, you know? I’ve come here with my boyfriend, both of us avid home cooks, so we got a suite at an adorable bed + breakfast, The Dove Inn, with a full kitchen for three days so we can cook. Tonight, I’m making homemade marinara — something I do year-round — it’s one of the things that grounds me, and keeps me close to my Italian culture. When I make it for you, or gift you a jar, that means I really like you. And when I have jars of it in my fridge, it comforts me. I riff on it each time in some way, and this time I started with a base of Raffaelli’s pomodoro, then added red wine, smoked olive oil, balsamic reduction, basil, Aleppo chile pepper and sugar. I was going to add Italian sausage, but then found out that smoked oysters exist, much to my great delight, and added those. With a large rigatoni, it’s a perfect all-in-one meal. I considered making some extravagant dessert, but then thought about the elegance in simplicity, and decided to just put my favorite chocolate bar on a marble cheese board and go with that. It’s Chocolove’s 55%. I’ve eaten a million different kinds of chocolate bars in my lifetime, and never have I had a better one. Also, if I share a bar with you, that also means I really like you.

Saturday, November 10th

Abejas. That’s a complete sentence. Sometimes you come across something really special, when and where you least expect it. This jewel box of a restaurant, on a side street off the main drag in Golden, is golden. I have at least one meal here when I’m in town. It’s not to be missed. Today, I stopped in for brunch. I enjoy mimosas and bloody marys like the next person, but a white sangria with brandy and apple cider was a perfect Fall start. To eat, a delicata squash benedict with star anise hollandaise. This dish is the perfect example of what makes this spot so special. To think of putting squash on an eggs benedict, and star anise in hollandaise, are seemingly simple ideas, but actually such inspired choices.

Tonight, a beloved client of ours, Blanchard Family Wines, did a pre-opening wine tasting of the 8 wines in their current lineup, all made in Sonoma, at their winery there. Opening in mid-December at Dairy Block in Denver — which is an incredible full city block on the site of a former dairy — of hotel, retail, restaurant and office space ( Cake Agency offices there! ), the on-site bar, Poka Lola, hosted the event, which is so great. Such a good collaboration.

After that, we had another one to attend — Denver has never been more vibrant, and many times, there are a few things of interest going on on any given night. This is one of those nights. It’s Fashion Week here in the city, hosted by 303 Magazine, and we’ve been gifted tickets from friend, colleague and Editor in Chief, Brittany Werges, to the International Designers Show. Another beloved client of ours, The Ginger Pig, did bites for the guests, so we got to support them at the same time.

Somehow we hadn’t eaten dinner and were starving at 10p. What sounded so good and right, was Denny’s. I think people tend to think I’m fancy, but that’s not really true. I will get in on a Grand Slam so fast it will make your head spin. I opted for the Slamburger, because they didn’t have this on the menu the last time I was at a Denny’s, and if you feel the need to put hash browns and pepper jack queso on a hamburger, I feel the need to eat that. Oh my god. I’ve probably never had a better burger. Insanely good. They only had two kinds of pie on the menu, which made me sad. I expect more from a diner. My favorite is banana cream, so obviously was rooting for that one, but the options were pumpkin or pecan. I got pecan. It didn’t make me mad. Diners are a community treasure, even chain ones.

Sunday, November 11th

I arrived home last night with three Hotbox doughnuts in my handbag. From the DFW event last night. This kind of thing is not unusual. I’ve had aluminum foil-wrapped bone marrow bones in there. Falafel has been in there. Steak. We had leftover quiche in the fridge. And half of the squash benedict. So, breakfast was a combination. I love a good leftover. I don’t hate much, but I do hate waste. And perhaps because I know how much time and care go into sourcing and preparing food, both in homes and in professional kitchens, I don’t have the heart to waste it.

It snowed overnight here, and has been snowing all morning, too. It must be six inches now, at noon. I love days like this. I’m so happy we have a kitchen in our suite, so we can stay in and cook and be cozy. Later, we decided to venture out for dinner. Across the street, to Thai Gold, a Golden institution. In a Victorian house built in 1907, it’s a charming space, serving authentic Thai food. I love these kinds of discoveries. Places that are so a part of the local community, but new to me. I ordered their signature cocktail — the Thai Gold mojito. This delight involves mango rum — which I didn’t even know was a thing until I saw this cocktail on the menu — mango juice, lime and basil leaves. A little too good, you know? Then, shrimp and sautéed eggplant in black bean sauce, with jasmine rice. And a Singha. Because, when in Rome. Or rather, Bangkok.

I spent much of these 4 days in Golden, but when not out of the city — a place I’ve lived for 24 years, and there’s never been a better restaurant + bar culture here than there is now — you can find me at these Denver spots on regular rotation — in fact, I’m eating at Hop Alley tomorrow night — +Hop Alley +The Wayback +Uchi +The Wolf’s Tailor +Annette +Nocturne +Bamboo Sushi +Pony Up +El Chingon +Sushi Sasa +B&GC +Misaki at Stanley +The Cooper Lounge.

When in Boulder, my two favorites are Basta & Brasserie Ten Ten.
When in Colorado Springs, Piglatin Cocina & Four by Brother Luck.