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Longtime Denver Restaurateur Cliff Young Talks About Chef Mike Weist

Mike Wiest
Mike Wiest
Photo: TGB

This is the last week of the month-long pay-it-forward love series at Eater. Early February, restaurant critic Stacey Brugeman of 5280 Magazine launched the series with praises for chef Mary Nguyen and her new café, Olive & Finch. Each day after, the chef named in one post wrote about their own personal hero. Nguyen spoke of Mark Dym of Marco's Coal Fired Pizza who praised chef Troy Guard's TAG who then shared his love for chef Jeff Osaka of Twelve. Osaka praised Beast + Bottle' Paul Reilly who talked up Bob Blair of Fuel Cafe who wrote a heartfelt note about Potager's Teri Rippeto. The chef and owner of the 17 year old Cap Hill restaurant continued the series with praises for Rob and Karin Lawler of the Truffle Cheese Shop and the Truffle Table . They expressed gratitude for the friendship of chef Brian Laird who talked about his former sous chef, Darrell Truett of Barolo Grill. Truett shared his thoughts on Alex Seidel of Fruition who passed along the love to Keegan Gerhard of D Bar. When it was his turn, Gerhard wrote about chef Jamey Fader who recognized his mentor, boss, and friend, Dave Query. Query shared his thoughts on Cliff Young of CY Steak, who now talks about chef Mike Weist.

In 1996, my wife, Sharon, and I went to Burgundy, France on a second honeymoon. The voyage changed our life. In 1998, we sold our assets and purchased an estate (domaine) founded in 1268 by a temple knight. There, we created an American outpost for cuisine and service called The Vintners Club.

Mike Weist was the American chef who defined the cuisine of TVC. Mike had been the noted chef de cuisine of Allreds in Telluride when he applied to work at Domaine Montagny. He became the symbol of American cuisine in Burgundy for many years. He also became one of my life's greatest friends. When I speak of Mike, I also implicitly speak of his wife Sue, sommelier and server extraordinaire and essential fourth member of the four person team who were the entire staff of the project other than housekeepers and guardians.

A typical Tuesday at the domaine, in preparation for guests from Hong Kong, Switzerland, England, and every corner of the USA, began early. Mike and I would sip coffee under the 300 year old plantain tree or in the cuisine of the domaine which was dominated by an ancient fireplace with Joan of Arc on the heat reflector and a 16th century rotisserie for small wild boar and other game. Here, we discussed the cuisine of the week and Mike taught me dominant modern trends. The exercise would take hours and included wine pairing -- in a place mature wines could be readily obtained. The laughter and profound caring for the moment dedicated to cuisine and the guests who would come on Thursday and depart on Sunday are still near me.

The kitchen, from where we served a maximum of eight guests, was a miniature Lancanche piano [a premium French range cooker], matfer iron skillets and marmites, and every necessary tool. It was Mike who went all over the region to source the proper tools, even from "puce" and "brocante" sales in the country where old tools were found.

The time spent on invention and communication is precious. We created a well-lit plating area, a stage, where the guests could rise from their chairs and watch the magic of Mike's gifted plating style and composition skills.

By night, the four of us would build an American-style fire of oak in the giant fireplace in the salon, drink Hine VSOP Cognac, and fill the old walls with laughter and pointed dialogue on all topics. Crystal memories in time.

By day, Tuesday through Saturday, we sourced ingredients together, from tiny markets in Louhan, Nuits St. George, and Beaune, from one of six killer bakeries. Rabbit and candled eggs from Madame Chaubee; milk and heavy cream which became crème fraiche by nature from the nearby dairy; quail, duck, and chicken from monsieur Mairet of Bresse, mushrooms from neighborhood children who make pennies by finding rosy tops and ceps; foie gras from the charcutier; oysters and cod from the fishmonger who drove to the north each day, and so on. Mike's eye and palate could discern the best of the best and then the many miracles would occur. Please go to www.Thevintnersclub.Com or to www.Cliffyoungs.Com to view Mike in the ktichen and view some of his menus which were never the same, guest to guest.

Each Saturday, Mike and Sue prepared a ten course meal and we all paired the wine. All courses were miniaturized and umami was omnipresent. Baking took place in a 13th century giant stone oven. Wines were killer - Clive Coates often sat at the head of the table. Mike, Clive, and I would prepare early morning fines herbes omelette for ourselves and the guests.

After a number of years we moved back to the USA. Mike returned to Allreds as chef this time, but preferred to follow his love of Colorado as a ski and trout fishing guide. At Christmas, and many times during the year, we speak and enjoy a rare face to face visit. Mike is a rare friend and fellow cuisiniere.

After the years at Cliff Young's, I often felt like the king of the art. In france with Mike, I began again with humility and learned what cuisine can be when practiced at the feet of long tradition and the most pure ingredients. Mike: You were the key to a most precious epoch, and the friendship is both past and future. And hey, I know it is great for both of us be home.

We have almost reached the end of the month, but have asked chef Wiest to pass the love around. Come back to hear what he is obsessing over.

· Cliff Young Adds a Chef de Cuisin and Weekly Menu at CY Steak [Cafe Society]
· Dave Query of the Big Red F on Restaurateur Cliff Young [EDen]
· Chef Jamey Fader on Dave Query of the Big Red F Group [EDen]
· February Love: Restaurant Critic Stacey Brugeman on Olive & Finch [EDen]
· Chef Mary Nguyen on Marco's Coal Fired Pizza [EDen]
· February Is For Lovers: Chef Mark Dym on TAG [EDen]
· Chef Troy Guard on Twelve Restaurant and Jeff Osaka [EDen]
· February Is For Lovers: Chef Jeff Osaka on Beast +Bottle [EDen]
· Paul Reilly of Beast + Bottle on Fuel Cafe's Bob Blair [EDen]
· Bob Blair of Fuel Cafe on Potager's Chef and Owner Teri Rippeto [EDen]
· Potager's Teri Rippeto on Rob and Karin Lawler of the Truffle [EDen]
· Karin Lawler of the Truffle Table on Brian Laird of Sarto's [EDen]
· Brian Laird of the Upcoming Sarto's on Darrel Truett of Barolo Grill [EDen]
· Alex Seidel of Fruition on Keegan Gerhard of D Bar [EDen]
· Keegan Gerhard of D Bar on Chef Jamey Fader [EDen]