Flashback to the summer of 2016 in Boulder. Ex-collegiate hockey player, ex-lawyer and neophyte chef Natascha Sherman Hess takes a leap of faith. She launches a food truck dishing the Asian home and street food she fell in love with as a student living in Asia. She calls the business Ginger Pig.
Over the next four years, Boulderites flock to her rich red curry, nine-spice fried chicken, char sui, and Bangkok rice balls with kaffir lime aioli.
Then, in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, Hess took another giant step and opened a Ginger Pig restaurant in Denver, earning new fans and unexpected kudos. Earlier this year, it was one of nine Colorado eateries to receive the prestigious Bib Gourmand honor in the state’s inaugural Michelin Guide Awards.
“I have to be honest: It’s shocking that we got the Michelin, and I still don’t really believe it. It’s not like our dream came true. We never even thought about a Michelin,” Hess says. “To have our name in the same sentence as that word is humbling. Getting to serve our food at the ceremony in Denver was a highlight of my life.”
All the while, Hess says she yearned to bring her food back to the place where it started, serving street food in the traditional style: take-out only.
After a year of planning, Ginger Pig opened Oct. 24 at 1203 13th St. on the Hill, former site of La Choza. Initially, the eatery will only be serving dinner.
“They always say ‘Location, location, location’ when it comes to restaurants and this is a great spot,” Hess says. “There’s so much foot traffic from the university.”
Ginger Pig Boulder was never intended as a sit-down eatery. “I really look at it as a food truck that stays at one location,” she says. “It feels like it did when we had the truck with the take-out window.”
You can go home again
The new menu includes many of the old favorites along with some additions. “I tried to make the food more transportable, and more approachable,” Hess says. “These are dishes they could grab and eat on the way to class or something somebody could eat in their car.”
Besides rice and noodle bowls, bánh mì are a major new player on the Ginger Pig Boulder roster.
“I spent some time in Vietnam tasting various styles of bánh mì,” Hess says. “I found a Denver bakery that makes the right kind of loaves that are a bit more chewy and a little bit softer and less crispy.”
Ginger Pig offers traditional pâté and cold cut Vietnamese sandwiches plus others layered with barbecued pork, fried chicken or Sichuan eggplant.
While the menu may be simpler, nothing has been dumbed down. “This is quick takeout and delivery but everything includes all the same great ingredients, like the pork we cook for 17 hours,” she says.
The signature star of the new Ginger Pig menu is an unlikely and somewhat outlandish sweet-and-savory dish.
“The Hong Kong French toast might be the best thing I’ve ever made in the seven years I’ve been doing this,” Hess says. “Hong Kong French toast normally has peanut butter in it, but I replaced it with kaya coconut jam.”
For this treat, bread slices are spread with butter, filled with sweet coconut jam, dipped in eggs seasoned with soy sauce and white pepper, rolled in cornflakes and panko, fried and then drizzled with sweetened condensed milk.
“It’s a really common dish all over Singapore and Malaysia and a really addictive thing once you have it,” she says. “You just crave it and want more.”
The Ginger Pig Boulder menu is simply full of things Hess loves. “We have a kimchi hot dog … on a King’s Hawaiian roll [with] kimchi and scallions and sesame seeds on top. I eat that one a lot,” she says. The opening roster also features shaking beef, a cornflake-crusted Korean corn dog and Taiko Tots — furikake-coated spuds served with salty cod roe mayo.
The outside wall of the new location sports a huge mural of the original Ginger Pig food truck that launched Hess toward success. A lot has changed in the years since, but the chef is glad to return to the place where it all started.
“It is coming full circle for us to be back in Boulder where people were so receptive to our food,” she says. “They helped us make the leap to open Ginger Pig in Denver. It feels comforting and safe to come home.”
Local Food News: Dark Horse Demise?
The World Famous Dark Horse may soon go dark as the Baseline Road property it has occupied since 1975 is slated for redevelopment. What will become of the historic decorations that adorn the walls of the famous burger restaurant and bar?
Kawaii Konbini is open at 332 Main St. in the Old Town Marketplace in Longmont, selling Japanese foods and goods along with made-to-order rice balls and sandos.
Boulder’s Moksha has created a limited release of its Pueblo Green Chile Chocolate Bars made with peppers from Mauro Farms in Pueblo and ground into the cacao and sprinkled on top.
Two Longmont beverage crafters, Dry Land Distillers and St. Vrain Cidery have collaborated on a limited-edition Apple Ginger Pommeau Colorado aperitif.
Time for the Green Tomato Variations
The sudden arrival of winter in Boulder County has left farmers and gardeners like me with an abundance of green tomatoes. Some that have already started turning may ripen into red ones, but most won’t.
While we will dearly miss the sweet red ripe summer crop, green tomatoes are a culinary treat on their own. You can treat them as a firm vegetable like squash or eggplant — roasted, or chopped and sauteed in a stir fry or stew. There’s always fried green tomatoes (egged and coated in crumbs or cornmeal) which are delicious. They also make good pickles. Finally, there are Depression-era recipes that substitute green tomatoes for green apples in pies.
Words to Chew On: Eating Politics
“The act of eating is very political. You buy from the right people, and you support the right network of farmers and suppliers who care about the land and what they put in the food.” — Alice Waters
John Lehndorff hosts Kitchen Table Talk with chef Daniel Asher, guests and listener calls 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Nov. 2 on KGNU-FM.