Ryan Taylor is making his own name in Denver’s food and wine scene
Denver native Ryan Taylor, son of Kevin Taylor, one of Denver’s most celebrated and pioneering chefs, shuns the spotlight, preferring to wow diners through his food rather than tout his accomplishments on social media. But the young wunderkind, who’s all of 27, has plenty to be proud of. He’s a level one sommelier, a cicerone and, for the past two-and-a-half years, has helmed the kitchen at Kevin Taylor’s at the Opera House, where he’s also responsible for providing all the food for the restaurant’s upscale banquets. And, later this year in August, when Stanley Marketplace, a 22-acre mixed-use development with a food-and-beverage focus, opens in Aurora, Taylor will take on a new role: executive chef of the Stanley Beer Hall, a collaborative effort between Taylor and his dad. In addition, Taylor will oversee the culinary program at The Hanger at Stanley, a 10,000-square-foot airplane hanger that hosts indoor and outdoor events. Taylor recently filled us in on the artistry of cooking, his influences and his recipe for a lovely spring dish.
My cooking career started when I was 15 and began working at Restaurant Kevin Taylor, my dad’s (now closed) restaurant at the Hotel Teatro. I worked garde manger on the weekends through high school until I could drive myself to work, and then I became a full-time employee. I worked my way through the ranks and, at the age of 20, took a stage at Mugaritz, a two-star Michelin restaurant in San Sebastián, Spain.
My fondest food memories have everything to do with family functions. I remember Thanksgiving and sausage stuffing, Christmas dinner with steak and béarnaise and birthdays with “Ryan’s pasta,” which is just a simple penne pasta that’s been a favorite of mine ever since I was 5 years old. While it’s nothing special, it would still be part of my last supper.
My biggest culinary influence is Kevin Taylor, my father. He taught me everything I know—not just the food side of things, but the business side of the restaurant industry, as well. He has an unbelievable wealth of knowledge and I couldn’t have a better mentor.
The best advice my dad gave me is to never stop learning. Read everything you can; take in everything you can; never stop growing; and never convince yourself that you know everything. There’s always something to learn, whether it’s from a positive or negative experience.
The thing people would find most surprising about me is how long I’ve been cooking. I know I look very young and not too many people actually believe that I’ve been cooking for more than 11 years.
My cooking philosophy is rooted in inspiration. Eat out, travel, experience different cultures and discover new and exciting things. But don’t expect inspiration to just come to you; you have to search for it. You have to want to better yourself, take risks and try new techniques. This is what keeps you young and creative and makes you want to become a better cook and chef. I always try to challenge myself with something fun and new; it makes me want to go to work and cook more.
I’m most proud of receiving both my level one sommelier certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers and my cicerone certificate. I love learning about everything in the industry; the more you know about every aspect that goes on in a restaurant, the better chef you become.
The best part about my job is that I get to touch and cook food every single day. I hate being in the office, but I love the kitchen. I’m always working the line, in the back prepping or in the dish pit scrubbing plates, pots and pans. I’m a cook at heart, and food and cooking is my ultimate passion in life.
What I enjoy most about cooking is how artistic it can be. From the colors on the plate to the shapes, food is art, and I like to look at it as the only art form that allows you to use all five senses. To the touch, there are so many different textures—not just with your hands but also in your mouth. The aromas can bring you back to past memories or take you to new places that you’ve never been. Then there are the different sensations and flavors of so many ingredients when you actually taste the food; it’s just amazing. Sound is a component, too. I love hearing the sizzle of meat when it hits the pan.
KEVIN TAYLOR’S AT THE OPERA HOUSE
1345 Champa St.
GRILLED SPRING LAMB LEG WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER, SNAP PEA SALAD AND PINE NUT ROMESCO Courtesy Ryan Taylor / Serves four
LAMB AND LAMB MARINADE
4 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and brought to room temperature
3 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
Juice and zest of two lemons
1 ounce olive oil
½ yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 cup red wine
4 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, covered in plastic to soften and diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 thyme sprigs
2 basil leaves
2 teaspoons pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
SNAP PEA SALAD
2 ounces olive oil
4 ounces fresh snap peas, thinly sliced
2 radishes, washed and thinly sliced
4 basil leaves
8 mint leaves
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
2 scallions, chopped
1 bunch watercress, washed and chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
2 ounces goat cheese
1 head cauliflower (Roman cauliflower or multi-colored, if available), cut into small florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine garlic cloves, thyme, rosemary, juice and zest of lemons and olive oil. Rub the olive oil mixture all over the lamb and allow lamb to rest for at least two hours in a sealed plastic bag.
In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, place olive oil, onion and garlic. Sautee onions and garlic until translucent, and then deglaze with red wine. Reduce mixture by half and then add the peppers, tomatoes, sherry vinegar, pine nuts, thyme leaves, basil leaves and the paprika. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and slowly cook for 10 minutes. Blend sauce until smooth.
SNAP PEA SALAD
Place peas in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until they come to a boil. Once they begin boiling, remove peas and immediately submerge peas in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Transfer peas to a bowl and combine with radishes, basil and mint leaves, parsley, scallions and watercress. Add olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Rub the florets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 10-12 minutes, at 375 degrees, until golden brown.
GRILLING THE LAMB
Preheat the grill to medium-high. Remove lamb from the marinade and rub off the garlic, rosemary and thyme because they will burn. Season lamb liberally with salt and pepper and grill for 3 minutes. Turn lamb 90 degrees and grill for another 3-4 minutes. Turn lamb over and do the same on the other side. Remove lamb from the grill when the internal temperature registers between 110 and 115 degrees and let rest for about 6 minutes to seal in the juices of the meat. Return lamb to the grill and cook for about 2-3 minutes per side until desired temperature. Let lamb cool and then slice.
To plate, place sauce on bottom of the plate, lay cauliflower on top and then fan lamb on top of the cauliflower. Garnish with the snap pea salad, crumbled goat cheese and remaining pine nuts.