I recently moved back to Colorado from Oregon; up in the Northwest, buying local is everything, whether the product is beer, meat, or chapstick. Locals prize their cider, lotions, and even tiny homes. I was thrilled to discover that Colorado has the same awareness of sourcing and maintains a fierce pride for things that are Colorado grown, raised, or made. We’re lucky as a state to have beautiful land and talented artisans to produce all kinds of treasures for every kind of need. Enter the talented minds behind some of Colorado Springs’ favorite restaurants, who unite regional produce with inspirational creativity to offer locals treats unique to the shadow of Pikes Peak.

THUNDER & BUTTONS, EXECUTIVE CHEF: ZACK SNIDER

When I sat down with Zack Snider, the executive chef at Old Colorado City’s Thunder and Buttons, I expected to hear about fancy ingredients or secret flavor profiles. Instead, Zack shared his simple motto, “Local is always better.” While he constantly tweaks recipes to make them his own, time and again Zack comes back to his two chief requirements: fresh and local. He believes that what’s in season and what’s close create superior menu options by providing him the best base to build on… and Zack takes local seriously. Along with his sous chefs, Zack strives to know who he’s getting food from, supporting—among others—local aquaponics farmers who raise micro vegetables. On Saturdays, the chefs make a habit of visiting the Bancroft Park farmers’ market, looking for fresh roasted chilis—the inspiration behind the recipe he shared with us.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

Good food… good quality food. The fresher the better.

WHAT INGREDIENTS CREATE COZY WINTER COOKING FOR YOU?

Things I remember growing up as a kid. Rich foods—cheese and beer are favorites—and braising… slow cooking that fills the kitchen with warm smells all day. I incorporate local beer in every recipe I can and I always braise with it.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WINTER RECIPE AND WHO TAUGHT YOU TO MAKE IT?

That’s a hard one. I don’t have a favorite. I love making green chili and I think it’s a staple for Colorado. I saw my mom make it and I’ve seen other chefs make it. I always remember the roasting of the chilis and I could stand in front of that basket all day.

WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED TO MAKE IT YOUR OWN?

I like taking cheap ingredients to create something great; pork loin is cheap, but after a day of cooking it’s delicious. I try to use local, fresh ingredients.

Zack focuses on offering good food that pleases people and consistently delivers quality. Give his green chili recipe a try at home and then stop by Thunder and Buttons; they’re rolling out menu changes mid-October. For the winter, T&Bs is focusing on comfort foods like pot roast and roast turkey sandwiches. While Zack says they’ll probably steer clear of the pumpkin bandwagon, he guarantees the new offerings will be hearty and just as delicious as the old favorites, like their renowned elk chili.

ADAM’S MOUNTAIN CAFE, OWNERS: David and Farley McDonough

At Adam’s in Manitou Springs, Farley runs the front and David runs the kitchen. When Farley took over Adam’s in 2001, she was inheriting 16 years’ worth of traditions; remaining current and appealing to a new generation while retaining the beloved dishes of 20-year customers is a challenge David and Farley happily tackle every season. With three generations eating at Adam’s, the love of the past is merged with forward-thinking dishes including vegan and allergy-aware offerings.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU IN THE KITCHEN?

Travel! When we’re traveling, we hit restaurants hard. We find dishes we want to try and then figure out how to make them practical for Adam’s. We are also inspired by the products around us, like fresh cherries. Consistency is key for a restaurant, so everything we create must be sustainable and uniformly high quality.

WHAT INGREDIENTS CREATE COZY, WINTER FOODS?

Root veggies, beans, sage, thyme, red wine, rustic breads, and hard cheeses. Our priorities for our ingredients are, first, that they’re sourced in Colorado and, second, that they’re organic. If we can’t meet those requirements then we seek out conventional suppliers. It’s really important to us to know the people we buy from and to know their farms. We’ve visited all our local farms and love watching the generations of farmers grow up on them.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WINTER RECIPE?

Farley: White bean stew… it’s so good I could eat it every day! It’s not sexy, but it is easy and delicious.

David: One of my favorites is Burmese curry, which was my mom’s recipe. We lived in Burma, and my mom was a fabulous cook. She embraced the recipes and ingredients of all the places we lived and taught me how to cook a lot of stuff. My upbringing inspires the global menu we try to introduce at dinner.

WHAT MEMORIES DOES WINTER COOKING INVOKE FOR YOU?

Farley: I grew up in a household where everything was burned, so that reminds me of my mother. At Christmas, my grandma’s cookie recipes make me really happy and at home.

David: Curries remind me of stories of my mother. She had a Chinese chef who thought the beef tenderloin she bought was water buffalo; he chopped it into tiny pieces and then cooked it forever. She talked about that mix up all the time.

While David is probably not going to share the raw pig recipe he ate in Malaysia, you can expect to see vegan mushroom stroganoff with organic mushrooms from a local greenhouse in January and fresh organic turkey at Thanksgiving.

WHITE BEAN & ROSEMARY SOUP

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 sprig fresh rosemary, destemmed & minced

1 can diced tomatoes

1/4 cup red wine (optional)

2 cans white cannellini beans, drained & rinsed

2 cups vegetable broth

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed cook pot, preferably cast iron. Add the onion and sauté for a minute or two. Add the garlic and rosemary and sauté until onion and garlic are soft. Pour in the can of diced tomatoes with juice and allow to simmer. If using red wine, add it as well. When the tomato mixture starts to thicken, add the beans and season with salt and pepper. Give it a few good stirs and add the vegetable broth, tomato paste, and bay leaf. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow to cook for about 30 minutes on low. Meanwhile, warm olive oil in a small skillet and add the almonds. Gently toast the almonds and sprinkle with just a bit of salt and pepper. To serve, top the bean soup with the almonds and optional feta.

JAKE & TELLY’S, OWNER: JAKE TOPKAS

My conversation with Jake Topakas, owner of Jake and Telly’s Greek Taverna in OCC, started with a passionate lecture on the grape varietals that create Greece’s unmatched wines. Actually, “passionate” is the only word that comes close to describing the two hours Jake and I spent sharing food, drink, and stories. Jake and Telly’s is a labor of love; that labor is evident in the food and the staff. Like his contemporaries around town, Jake seeks out all-natural and organic Colorado products to build his masterpieces. He also adds a healthy dose of frugality, taking care to use every part of every ingredient that he can—a trait that occasionally earns him light-hearted grief at home.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU AT JAKE AND TELLY’S?

Several years ago, I changed the whole idea of the restaurant—I don’t run a business, I run a family. This is my life. I can’t change who I am; these people are my family and I love them to death. I put my faith and religion into everything in my life, and from that moment on, everything has gotten better. A lot of what I changed was based on what was coming out of me—what was coming out of my heart. Now, these people understand that they’re not just waitresses, they’re not just employees at a restaurant… they’re part of a bigger thing here. They’re part of something that’s special and grand. That’s come from the food, in the way I work to bring in the best ingredients. Eighty percent of the stuff in this restaurant is either all-natural or organic. All of our lamb is from Colorado and all-natural, and during the summer I buy from the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers. I’ve done my best to understand that this is about living: I’m not here to make more money—I’m here to live my life.

WHAT INGREDIENTS CREATE WINTER COOKING FOR YOU?

Styles, more than ingredients, really speak to winter for me. You are talking to the soup master. I love soup; I love making soup. Soups are the best, and I don’t let anything go to waste—nothing. I fell in love with soups because I’m efficient. You can make soup with the things people throw away; you have the opportunity to make delicious things with ingredients that people might not otherwise try. At home, my wife thinks I’m crazy because I use everything. Everything can be worked with and turned into something delicious. Soups and stews are my favorite because you can bring a lot of things together and create an amazing meal for people. The ingredients I use for winter are red meats, potatoes, butternut squash, mushrooms, legumes, and peppers. I think of root vegetables—things that are underground and stay on the vine longer. At my house, Sunday is “Stock Sunday” because something delicious is always on and sending smells all throughout the house. When you take your time, you can use heat to draw out the flavors. Heat draws out the energies and the essence—it brings out the healing value of the food.

Jake and Telly’s story is long and beautiful; over 20 years, the restaurant has evolved into an integral part of both the neighborhood and the neighbors’ lives. Jake’s love for food and customers is shared by the staff, who readily listen to the stories of their patrons before sending them out the door with a hug. Jake consistently recommends the lamb shanks—a popular entreé that spends five hours in the oven—because he believes, like everything in life, the longer you spend with a dish, the better it is.

FUJIYAMA, OWNER: MINJI SUH

Beautiful Minji Suh owns
Fujiyama in downtown Colorado Springs and her creative genius drives the menu. Minji opened Fujiyama 19 years ago; since then, she has traveled all over the country to find the best sauces she can to elevate the experience of her rolls. Fujiyama is known for its sake bombs and half-price Mondays, but Minji brings a wealth of experiences to the rest of the menu. Having lived in Korea, Japan, and the US, Minji offers perspectives from around the world and she isn’t shy about mixing and matching different heritages to create new combinations.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

Fujiyama is named for Mount Fuji in Japan; because Colorado Springs is at the base of Pikes Peak, the two mountains seemed connected. Fujiyama is about bringing the delicious sushi I loved in Japan to this landlocked place. I want a lot of people, especially young people, to come and enjoy, so I’ve focused on breaking the image of sushi being an expensive food; I offer happy hours and special deals to make our food affordable.

HOW DO YOU CREATE COZY WINTER COOKING?

We offer a lot of fired sushi—sushi that’s been cooked in foil—to give customers a warm meal. We also use fiery spices to create the heat of spiciness.

Minji’s sauces are made with lots of fruits, which make them the stars of every meal; her seaweed salad is a treat by itself, but when paired with the buttery noodles of the udon recipe she shared with us it becomes a heavenly experience. This winter, keep your eye out for Minji’s Korean-style clam curry with Italian-style noodles.