Colorado food lovers looking to try Michelin-star cuisine can travel a little closer to home this year. While San Francisco and Chicago are still the closest cities receiving the awards, Boulder chef Kelly Whitaker of Basta has a strong connection to one recently-awarded restaurant.
Starting Friday, diners will be able to find Whitaker’s newly Michelin-starred farro risotto back on the Basta menu for Boulder Restaurant Week. The dish is featured on the menu at San Francisco’s In Situ, which just won its first Michelin star for 2018 and was picked for Eater’s 12 Best New Restaurants in America in 2017.
Long before the awards, Whitaker traveled to In Situ, a new restaurant that emulates the best restaurants by recreating their signature dishes, to teach chef Corey Lee how to make Basta’s bread and butter.
The plan was to include this most basic of plates made with Whitaker’s heritage grain on In Situ’s homage-style menu. Housed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, In Situ acts as a time capsule for other restaurants, chefs, and their dishes around the world.
The visit was serendipitous for Whitaker. A handful of years ago, he waited outside Lee’s Benu and argued with his wife about the cost of eating there. They were broke, about to move to Colorado to start a restaurant, and they managed to pay $40 for a meal that night.
Fast forward and Whitaker finds himself preparing his bread and butter as well as a farro risotto dish from Basta for chef Lee to include on his new restaurant’s lineup.
He tried every dish on In Situ’s a la carte menu, which ranges from small to large plates sourced from top chefs around the world, and he decided his heritage farro risotto would best complement the others.
Whitaker worked with In Situ’s chefs for days getting the dish just right in a new location — applewood-smoked ricotta salata shaved thinly across the top to emulate Colorado snowfall, small farro prepared in a rice cooker rather than his usual wood-fire oven, a new sorrel puree to add brightness. Altogether, the simple-looking risotto has some 15-20 ingredients.
“This is the bar for me,” Whitaker says of the process. “They work on your dish every day. I essentially wouldn’t leave until I said, ‘This is it.’”
At In Situ, each chef’s dish has a charitable component. For his, Whitaker chose to donate to his Noble Grain Alliance as well as to those affected by the recent Northern California wildfires. Back in Boulder, Whitaker is preparing to re-debut the risotto on Basta’s First Bite tasting menu, part of Boulder Restaurant Week November 10 through 18. After that, it will be back on Basta’s fall menu.
Asked how it feels to be on a menu that has featured some of the world’s best chefs — Massimo Bottura, René Redzepi — Whitaker says he questioned it at first: “I’ve eaten at all these restaurants, now they’re on the same menu, and my first question was, ‘Do I belong here?’” Now he’s starting to come around to it. “This was the next step,” he says. “Our goal is to keep pushing Denver forward.”