Five Colorado restaurants were awarded Michelin stars on Tuesday, a mark of excellence in the culinary world.
In June, Michelin and the Colorado Tourism Office announced that Michelin’s full-time staff of inspectors would anonymously evaluate restaurants in Denver, Boulder, Aspen and Snowmass Village, Vail and Beaver Creek. Colorado is the sixth region in the U.S. to receive a Michelin Guide.
Which restaurants in Colorado received Michelin Guide stars?
- Beckon, Denver (Duncan Holmes)
- Bosq, Aspen (Barclay Dodge)
- Brutø, Denver (Michael Diaz de Leon and Kelly Whitaker)
- Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder (Ian Palazzola)
- The Wolf’s Tailor, Denver (Taylor Stark and Kelly Whitaker)
Chef Kelly Whitaker, who landed stars both for Brutø and The Wolf’s Tailor, and received green sustainability stars for both restaurants, said he missed the Michelin star announcements because he was busy in the back talking about the green stars.
“I was in the back talking about impact and sustainability, and why this matters so much…then I hear all this screaming and Chef Taylor’s like ‘you gotta get outta here we got a star.’ And like, that’s cool, but I’m still just jazzed about that green star — I’m still thinking about that,” Whitaker said, as people surrounded him for handshakes and hugs after the ceremony.
“Everybody here works hard. We need to build a different kind of future for restaurants,” Whitaker said. “So I look at this as an opportunity, not validation. It’s an opportunity to create some better good, so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Guests mingle at Colorado’s first Michelin Guide ceremony Sept. 12, 2023, at Mission Ballroom in Denver. Michelin inspectors use five criteria points to assess a restaurant: product quality; mastery of cooking techniques; harmony of flavors; voice and personality of the chef as reflected in the cuisine; and consistency over time across a menu. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
What do the Michelin Guide stars mean?
The Michelin Guide as we know it was created in 1931, when the Michelin brothers — founders of a French tire company — sent a team of “mystery diners” out to rank fine dining establishments, and sold the guide to motorists traveling on their tires.
Though the process for evaluating and obtaining stars is complex, understanding them is simple, and nods back to Michelin’s original road trip themed guides: one star is worth a stop, two is worth a detour, three is worth a journey.
Michelin stars are awarded based on five universal criteria: quality of products, harmony of flavors, mastery of cooking techniques, voice and personality of the chef reflected in the cuisine, and the consistency between each visit and throughout the menu, according to the Michelin Guide.
Despite whatever clichéd images of starched tablecloths and artistically arranged morsels of food come to mind when we mention “fine dining,” Michelin maintains that their inspectors do not consider table settings, interior decor or service quality when evaluating a restaurant.
After multiple anonymous visits by Michelin’s inspectors — an inspector never visits the same place twice — a restaurant can be awarded up to three stars.
LEFT: Guests prepare for the first Michelin Guide ceremony. RIGHT: Hors d’oeuvres of cream puffs stuffed with green chile, goat cheese, and gold dust are served. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
ABOVE: Guests prepare for the first Michelin Guide ceremony. BELOW: Hors d’oeuvres of cream puffs stuffed with green chile, goat cheese, and gold dust are served. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
In general, the higher a restaurant is rated, the more expensive it is to eat at (and the harder it is to get a reservation). More recently, three other designations were created to broaden the awards given.
The Bib Gourmand designation was created in 1997 to highlight restaurants that serve “recognizable” meals for a reasonable price, according to the Michelin Guide. In other words, these restaurants don’t necessarily bend over backward to formality like Michelin’s two- and three-star dining establishments, and provide more bang for your buck.
Nine Colorado restaurants received the designation at the end of August. All but one were located in Denver. They are:
- AJ’s Pit Bar-B-Q, Denver
- Ash’Kara, Denver
- Glo Noodle House, Denver
- Hop Alley, Denver
- La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal, Denver
- Mister Oso, Denver
- Tavernetta, Denver
- The Ginger Pig, Denver
- Basta, Boulder
Bar and taco orders are prepped on Tuesday at La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal, one of nine restaurant winners of the Bib Gourmand distinction from the Michelin Guide. (Parker Yamasaki, The Colorado Sun)
In 2017, Michelin debuted the Michelin Recommended category (originally dubbed Michelin Plates), for restaurants that were good, but not quite good enough for a star.
Most recently, in 2020, Michelin introduced the Green Star, a distinction for restaurants that show an outstanding commitment to environmental sustainability. In Colorado they are:
- Blackbelly Market, Boulder
- Bramble & Hare, Boulder
- Brutø, Denver
- The Wolf’s Tailor, Denver
Outstanding Service Award
Sergei Kiefel and front-of-house team at Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder
Exceptional Cocktails Award
Caroline Clark at The Wolf’s Tailor, Denver
Ryan Fletter and Erin Lindstone at Barolo Grill, Denver
Young Chef or Culinary Professional Award
Kelly Kawachi of Blackbelly Market, Boulder
How much does a star cost?
Officially speaking, Michelin stars cannot be bought — at least not by individual restaurants or chefs. However, local tourism boards, hotels, and food and beverage companies can pay Michelin in exchange for consideration in the guide.
The Colorado Tourism Office agreed to contribute $100,000 a year for three years to Michelin as The New York Times reported, though the total cost is projected to be closer to $135,000, according to Hayes Norris, communications manager for the Colorado Tourism Office.
The four regions and two ski resort towns that are up for consideration also agreed to contribute anywhere between $70,000 to $100,000 annually for three years.
According to Maureen Poschman, a PR consultant for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which worked on bringing the Michelin Guide to Aspen, the contribution goes straight to Michelin, which uses it for marketing and promoting the restaurant selections. Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver, said in an email to The Sun that he, too, understood the money as paying for “the rating service and ongoing international and domestic marketing.”
LEFT: Hors d’oeuvres of cream puffs stuffed with green chile, goat cheese, and gold dust are served. RIGHT: Hors d’oeuvres of buffalo carpaccio are served. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
ABOVE: Hors d’oeuvres of cream puffs stuffed with green chile, goat cheese, and gold dust are served. BELOW: cHors d’oeuvres of buffalo carpaccio are served. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
The Colorado Tourism Office spends around $20 million a year to reach travelers and last year they counted 90 million visitors who spent a record $27.7 billion.
Visitors to Colorado spent $5.7 billion on food service in 2022, an increase of 17% from 2021, according to a 2023 economic impact report compiled by Dean Runyan Associates. In Aspen’s Pitkin County, visitors spent $829 million in 2022, supporting 5,360 jobs and generating $40.4 million in local taxes, according to the Runyan report.
After steep declines in tourist traffic in 2020 and 2021, the 2022 tourist traffic and spending numbers reveal an industry clawing back lost ground after the pandemic. International travel to Colorado has been the slowest to recover after a virtual collapse in 2020 and 2021. Spending by international visitors reached $1.1 billion in 2022, up from $385 million in 2021 but below levels seen in 2019.
Norris noted that the Colorado Tourism Office expects the Michelin Guide to focus on international promotion, and that for visitors from Japan, the U.K. and Germany in particular, gastronomy is “a top deciding factor” when choosing a vacation destination.
Notable exclusions from the guide are Colorado Springs, the second most populous city in Colorado, and Aurora, home to Colorado’s James Beard award winning chef, Caroline Glover, and her restaurant, Annette at the Stanley Marketplace. Neither city could be reached for comment.
Here are the Colorado restaurants recommended without stars by the Michelin Guide:
A5 Steakhouse, Denver
Barolo Grill, Denver
Blackbelly Market, Boulder
Dio Mio, Denver
Bramble & Hare, Boulder
Dushanbe Tea House, Boulder
Element 47, Aspen
Guard and Grace, Denver
Hey Kiddo, Denver
Marco’s Coal Fired, Denver
Mawa’s Kitchen, Aspen
Mercantile Dining and Provision, Denver
Oak at Fourteenth, Boulder
Q House, Denver
Splendido at The Chateau, Avon
Stella’s Cucina, Boulder
Sweet Basil, Vail
Temaki Den, Denver
Zoe Ma Ma, Denver
CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9 a.m. on Sept. 13, 2023, to correct a misstatement about Annette’s James Beard award. Caroline Glover was Colorado’s only Beard award winner in 2022.