Tour de Skratch

Boulder's Dr. Allen Lim preaches the power of dining together

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Dr. Allen Lim at Boulder's Skratch Labs Cafe. Courtesy: Skratch Labs Cafe

Dr. Allen Lim is a study in perpetual motion as he wends his way through Skratch Labs Cafe, greeting familiar diners and delivering plates of rice cakes, salads and bowls. When he finally sits down for a meal at the downtown Boulder eatery, Lim is animated and engaged.

“I definitely never set out to be in the food business,” he says. “I had no desire to be an entrepreneur. I just wanted to help athletes, which to me is anyone who works up a sweat.”

In cycling circles, Lim — a longtime local athlete, exercise scientist and chef — is revered for his work feeding and coaching professionals on the Tour de France and the Pro Cycling Tour. 

Athletes and active people know Boulder-based Skratch Labs for its popular line of sports hydration powders, mixes and snacks, but its founder had bigger goals in mind at his year-old Pearl Street eatery. 

“We were making certain products for convenience,” Lim says, “but I didn’t want to ignore the fact that sports nutrition really starts in the home kitchen.” 

The power of commensality

Working with athletes, Lim came to an aha moment: “I realized that social interaction mattered as much to their performance and mental health as the chemical fuel,” he says. He became a devout believer in commensality, the power of simply gathering around the table to eat. 

The act of dining as a group has fallen on hard times in the United States, especially during and since the pandemic. Lim’s clients weren’t particularly enthusiastic about his Kumbaya approach on tour. 

“You see a lot of disordered eating,” he says. “The biggest red flag is eating by yourself. We had to make it mandatory to eat together.”

Lim points to the famous Framingham Heart Study which concluded that the biggest risk factor for heart disease after smoking is loneliness. Other studies highlight the benefits to kids who regularly eat meals with their parents. 

“In a culture built on independence where loner-ism is celebrated, it’s hard to sell togetherness,” he says. “But we discovered that our team dinners were core to maintaining athletic performance.” 

Lim’s insistence that the pro cyclists dine together on the tour evolved into a food truck which he drove to cycling events, then to three cookbooks written with chef Biju Thomas, launching a company supplying products to athletes, and finally a cafe in Boulder.

A place to eat together

Lim opened the Skratch Labs Cafe in 2023 as a place where the community could eat together and connect. 

The menu features veggie and rice bowls topped with fried chicken or baked tofu, soups and coffee drinks from Boulder’s bike-oriented Coffee Ride. The sweets range from fruit-filled hand pastries to cookies infused and fortified with Skratch’s supplemental mixes. 

Fresh rice cakes are a unique item on the cafe’s lineup. These are not those dry, crispy crackers but rather warm squares of rice filled with a variety of ingredients. Lim says the breakfast rice square with pork belly and eggs was inspired by the banana-leaf steamed rice dishes beloved in many Asian cuisines. 

“I’m unabashedly in favor of high-quality carbs like rice,” he says. “Those are the key to endurance.”

His website and cookbooks offer simple variations on the rice cakes designed to provide cost-effective, high-energy and easy to consume portions. 

Investing in dinners together

Like getting to the gym on a frigid January evening, enjoying the benefits of commensality is not easy. 

“Shopping, cooking, setting the table and cleaning up take time,” Lim says. “You have to plan and take it seriously. It’s too hard to do otherwise, because it’s a longtime commitment, not something you do once.”

The way to deal with performance pressure — whether over a race or the thought of feeding people at your house — is to keep it simple.  

“It doesn’t need to be perfect,” he says. “It just needs to be dinner, rice and beans with friends.”

Lim’s best performance hack is simple: Share more meals, whether it’s at home or a local bistro. 

“It brings happiness,” he says with a broad smile.

For Allen Lim’s Skratch recipes, visit skratchlabs.com.


Local Food News: Pollo Tico Closes

The Oscars of the American prepared food world, the Good Food Awards, announced its 2024 finalists in various categories. Familiar local nominees include Bibamba Artisan Chocolate, Snow Capped Cider, Pastificio, Mountain Girl Pickles, Spark + Honey Granola and Full Stop Bakery

Chef Byron Gomez, the former “Top Chef” contestant, has closed his Pollo Tico spot at Boulder’s Avanti Food & Beverage. Quiero Arepas, formerly part of Avanti’s lineup, will reopen there in the spring. 

All three locations of Whole Sol Blend Bar, including at 29th Street in Boulder, will close Jan. 19. 

The original Jax Fish House will be closed through Feb. 1 for remodeling as the eatery prepares for its 30th anniversary later this year. 

130 years ago, the Five Pie Pedestrian Club hiked to Boulder Falls and ate pie. Credit: Carnegie Library for Local History

Words to Chew On: Build a pie legacy

“Nothing is better than taking the pie out of the oven. What it does for you personally, and for your family’s idea of you, is something you can’t buy. ” — Martha Stewart

Jan. 23 is National Pie Day, a holiday created by Charlie Papazian in Boulder in 1975.

John Lehndorff was the founding Executive Director of the American Pie Council and Chief Judge at the National Pie Championships. Send information about upcoming culinary events and classes to nibbles@boulderweekly.com