When Michelin Guide inspectors come to judge a restaurant, they’re looking for five things — quality of products, mastery of flavor and cooking techniques, harmony of flavors, consistency between visits and a dining experience where the personality of the chef is clearly represented. 

“That’s how we make sure Michelin has the same value worldwide. From Paris to Tokyo to Colorado,” said Gwendal Poullennec, international director of Michelin Guides, to a crowd of restaurateurs, industry hotshots and media who gathered at the Mission Ballroom in Denver on Sept. 12 to celebrate the tire company announcing Colorado’s first Michelin-starred eateries.

And Boulder won big.

For over a century, the French multinational manufacturing company has been directing food obsessives to the world’s best restaurants. Not long after its establishment in 1889, the guide was added to encourage travel, with a single star indicating a very good restaurant, two stars recommending a meal worth a detour, and three stars ensuring an establishment is worth a special journey for a meal you’ll never forget. 

Since word got out that Michelin was coming to Colorado, anyone with even a mild interest in snacking has talked of little else. At the celebration, Michelin awarded five stars, nine Bib Gourmands, 30 Recommended Restaurants and several additional medals for individual excellence.

The coveted stars were presented to Aspen’s Bosq, three Denver spots including Bruto, The Wolf’s Tailor and Beckon, and finally and perhaps a bit unexpectedly, Boulder’s very own Frasca Food and Wine. Each spot was presented with one star.

“Colorado’s now on the international map,” said Timothy Wolfe, Colorado Tourism Office director. “When judges are awarding stars, you can feel in the air that people’s lives are about to change in an amazing way,” continued Poullennec.

The winning teams were certainly thrilled, but there was also a pervasive sense that the win was for Colorado at large. “I’ve eaten at all the local winners and I’m extremely happy for all the teams that were recognized tonight,” says private chef Eric Vollono. “I was working for Art Smith [the chef at Reunion] in Chicago when the stars came out there for the first time. I used those stars to navigate my career for the next 10 years. There are going to be a lot of restaurants recalibrating after these awards and I’m really excited to see how the Colorado food scene continues to grow.”

Kelly Whitaker, whose original restaurant Basta is based in Boulder, took home a range of wins outside the stars across his Id Est Hospitality Group. Caroline Clark, the group’s director of wine and hospitality, was honored for Exceptional Cocktails, along with Bruto and The Wolf’s Tailor both receiving Green Stars, which focus on a restaurant’s exceptional commitment to sustainability. Blackbelly also took home the green, along with butcher Kelly Kawachi grabbing the prize for Michelin Young Chef and Culinary Professional. Bramble and Hare was also acknowledged for its long commitment to in-house farming practices.

“Boulder was recognized in 2010 as America’s foodiest city,” Savor Productions owner and producer Jessica Benjamin told the crowd, referring to the Bon Appetit article that helped put the valley’s dining on the map. “Once again, Boulder was recognized as an elite culinary destination. I’m so incredibly proud of everyone who was recognized.” 

Boulder also won big in the Recommended Restaurant category, with seven of the 30 being hometown favorites. Blackbelly, Bramble and Hare, the Dushanbe Teahouse, Oak at Fourteenth, Santo, Stella’s Cucina and Zoe Ma Ma were all considered among the greats. The list also includes top restaurants like Denver’s A5 Steakhouse and Restaurant Olivia, Vail’s Sweet Basil and Aspen’s Mawa’s Kitchen.

While the awards certainly indicate growth in both the quality and size of Colorado’s dining scene, Michelin’s presence also bodes well for the future. “Colorado deserves to be recognized by Michelin, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said The Culinary Creative Group’s CEO Juan Padro. The group saw several Bib wins at both Mister Oso and Ash’Kara. 

The awards felt like a pivotal and transformative moment. The immense hard work of the recipients was elegantly recognized. The state was also called to task, now part of a global theater where the culinary demands are more rigorous. “I will build that market,” said Denver Mayor Mike Johnston.

Previous articleBoulder County is an arts county
Next articleStudio Arts’ expanded facility set to open early next year