Flavorful Notes: Denver Chef Jennifer Jasinski

This Denver-based chef plays to a symphony of tastes.

Culinary pursuits began at a young age for Jennifer Jasinski. Growing up in a single-parent family, she developed a knack for following and creating recipes in preparation for her turn to cook the family’s meals. She later refined her skills at the acclaimed Rainbow Room in New York City. A chance meeting with Wolfgang Puck marked a turning point in her career, sending her traveling throughout the country developing an array of menu concepts while gaining impressive recognition.

In 2000, Jasinski put down roots in Denver as executive chef at Panzano, where she met her now business partner Beth Gruitch. Together they opened four distinctive dining destinations around downtown: Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, and Stoic & Genuine.

Jasinski and her husband Max MacKissock, owner and chef of Bar Dough, devote time to enjoying the Colorado lifestyle, too—often hiking and biking with their two Labradors, Deano and Gingersnap.

Chef Jennifer Jasinski
(Courtesy Rioja)

What influenced your decision to become a chef?

I used to cook with both my grandparents, who were really good cooks. Not my mom so much, she was too busy. But I was good at it, I understood it and it made sense to me. I liked the fast-paced energy behind cooking as an ADD kind of kid—and adult. Then the more I learned about it the more I loved the techniques and got into the stories behind things and their history, the traditions.

Did you always want to be a chef?

No, I thought I'd be a musician. I played woodwind instruments—flute and clarinet—and was good so I thought I'd [play] music professionally. But I started cooking in high school and loved it, so I made this decision when I was thinking about going to college of, 'Well, I could be a starving artist, or I could be a chef and eat!'

How has your style of cooking changed throughout your career?

My cooking has evolved over the years and it's kind of come back full circle right now, into a cleaner, simpler style than maybe I was at four or five years ago. Sometimes you get into this inventing phase where you want to try everything, and sometimes you just settle back into, 'I just want to have really great techniques and make this fish shine for what it is.' I'm constantly evolving, but I think that's good. I'm not trendy, but I want to stay relevant, and I want to stay up-to-date and current with what's happening in the food world.

Do you and your husband have different cooking styles?

Very different, yeah. He has a lot of really interesting techniques that maybe I don't know about, and so I'll learn from him. He has really beautiful composition and plating—he makes the most beautiful plates of food—and I'll get ideas from him on that. He's a much more feminine cook than me.

What’s your favorite meal to cook at home when you’re entertaining?

I love making tacos and Mexican food—with some watermelon margaritas this time of year [summer], that's delicious. I also love making pasta, but I wouldn't do something too complicated. I'd just make a fresh noodle or maybe a risotto. Cleaning up at home isn't as fun!

What drew you to Denver?

When I was still working for Wolfgang Puck, he had sent me to Denver a few times to do some parties and I really liked the city and the people. And it was kind of untapped in 1999—there were a lot of nice people but not a lot of great restaurants. I thought, 'maybe this is a good place to move,' and I think it was a good decision. Nice people, nice weather, true seasons—I need sunshine, I hate humidity. I miss the ocean, but we have these gorgeous mountains.

When you’re not in the kitchen, what do you like to do?

My husband and I both mountain bike and there are tons of amazing trails. We'll go to Moab and on a hot weekend we'll probably go up to Breckenridge or something to get out of the heat.

Chef Jennifer Jasinski
(©Thomas Cooper)