Chef Jennifer Jasinski ’89, Rocky Mountain Restaurateur
CIA Alumni Bio
Jennifer Jasinski is the highly successful executive chef and owner of Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, Stoic & Genuine, and Ultreia, all in Denver, CO. “I think what defines Colorado’s food scene and sets it apart is how ‘homegrown’ it has been. Great chefs either grow up here or come here to ‘make it.’ We have tons of locally owned independent restaurants. We are not overloaded with chains. I love that.”
A Knack for Cooking
Growing up in a single-parent household with two siblings who all took turns cooking, Chef Jasinski developed a knack for following recipes and creating her own. In a high school occupational program for aspiring chefs, she made the decision to dedicate her studies to cooking and enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America. “I believe you get out of things what you put into them,” she explains. “I always want to get the most out of everything I do.”
After graduation, she worked at the Rainbow Room under renowned restaurateur Joe Baum and Chef André Rene. The turning point in her career came from a chance meeting with a guest at the restaurant—Wolfgang Puck. He mentioned she should “look him up” when she was in Los Angeles, so she did.
Working with Wolfgang
Chef Jasinski landed a job at L.A.’s prestigious Hotel Bel-Air, where she had the opportunity to re-acquaint herself with Puck, a consultant at the time for the hotel’s restaurant. So began a creative and fruitful 10-year professional relationship, as she helped Puck open numerous restaurants and create menus. Her roles included sous chef at Postrio, San Francisco; café chef at Spago, Las Vegas; executive sous chef at Granita, Malibu; executive sous chef at Spago, Chicago; and corporate chef at Wolfgang Puck Food Company. With Puck’s support and encouragement, she even did a stint in Paris at Ledoyan, a Michelin two-star restaurant. “Wolfgang (Puck) was my mentor and my culinary role model,” Jasinski says. “His philosophy that it’s not necessarily what you do, but how you do it, is my mantra…You can make mashed potatoes, or you can make great potato purée.”
In 2000, Chef Jasinski decided to settle down in Denver, becoming executive chef at Panzano. There she met future business partner Beth Gruitch, and the two decided to leave their posts in 2003 to begin their first venture into restaurant ownership. The following year they opened Rioja, featuring a Mediterranean menu influenced by seasonal Rocky Mountain ingredients. Other restaurants followed, to great acclaim.
Chef Jasinski has received many personal honors and awards as well. She was the first Denver chef to win The James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest award, and in 2016 was named a James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Chef. Other accolades included Colorado Chef of the Year and Western Regional Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation, being named one of America’s Best Female Chefs by Thrillist, and inclusion in the Restaurant Business Online Power 20. She was also a finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
Chef Jasinski released a cookbook, The Perfect Bite, in 2010, and appears as a guest chef at numerous fundraisers throughout the country.