Gathering, preparing, and sharing food brings us together, like primal ancestors to fire. Shimmering succulence, heady aromas, beguiling textures: Mouthing a delicious morsel often gives rise to shared smiles, sighs, or an eyes-shut collective moan. The pleasure and power of food in stirring our emotions is undeniable. With lives driven by culinary passion, three area chefs share what makes food so memorable for them.
Mawa McQueen of Market Street Kitchen (Willits) and Mawa's Kitchen (Aspen)
Born in Ivory Coast and raised in Paris with a mother who loved to cook for her family, McQueen has an innate, sensual reverence for food.
RFL: What's your most memorable meal?
"Always a family get-together, as we are a large family. I will cook, and everybody always thinks it's my mom's cooking. My mom never denied cooking—this happened a lot."
What are the elements of great dining?
"I think it is the people you are with, not the food. Of course then, the love that you put into cooking, or doing things for other people, is what comes through. People appreciate the effort you put in to provide for them, when you go out of your way to make something."
Are there any dishes especially great for sharing with others?
"Absolutely. Anything Mediterranean, Spanish, or African. They understand food, and that it is about sharing. Look at the culture of people who share food. Because of the culture, it's not fancy, it's made to be shared. Examples: hummus, guacamole, tagine plate to share."
What's the best dish you ate growing up?
"Fried fish and plantains, fried bananas, Senegalese Fish and Rice (Thiéboudienne)."
What's your earliest food memory?
"Fried donut filled with apple compote. Earliest food I made. I made it every Saturday until I nailed it. First time didn't rise, second time didn't cook through. People thought I was crazy."
How can home cooks make more memorable meals?
"To make a memorable meal at home you need to enjoy the experience of cooking for others. If you're stressed about it, don't even do it. It needs to be enjoyable. You need to put your heart out there and people will love it. In a nutshell, what makes the meal memorable is the people you're with and your state of mind, not the ingredients and not the food."
Stephen Horner of Slow Groovin' (Marble and Snowmass) and Propaganda Pie (Redstone)
Crafted by the same three brothers-from-another-mother behind Slow Groovin’ BBQ, Redstone’s soon-to-open Propaganda Pie will specialize in Detroit style pan pizza from scratch. Destination dining at its best, Propaganda Pie has ideal Crystal River-side seating and stunning red rock canyon views. The fellas will host live music and offer up billiards, an arcade, and plenty of great outdoor games for all ages.
RFL: How did you three start out?
“Pizza and BBQ are foods that we’re passionate about, that we love to share with our friends and family. Ryan [Vinciguerra] and I grew up together and have been friends since elementary school. I met Nial [O’Connor] in college and we became roommates, best friends, and the stars of our culinary program at Mercyhurst College. Ryan got the same degree from Ohio State. We all moved to Marble when Ryan founded our first restaurant there, Slow Groovin’.”
What are the elements of great dining?
"Passion. Passion inspires people to continue to improve. It creates an excitement, to share their knowledge and skills with guests. Dining outside in a destination location is always a bonus, too."
What did you love to eat as a kid?
"My Uncle Mark's grilled chicken. We would eat it with our hands in the back yard for all of our summer family reunions."
Earliest food memory?
"BBQ ribs for my seventh birthday. My face was covered with sauce!"
Favorite dish on your restaurant's menu at the moment?
"Detroit style pizza with pepperoni and banana peppers."
Favorite meal of the day?
"Late lunch after spending the day playing in the mountains."
What's your advice for making better meals at home?
"Cook from scratch, cook for loved ones, and eat outside."
Molly Mogavero of EAT (New Castle)
At EAT, Mogavero says she strives to “bring you back home, to when food was wholesome and fresh and mealtime was the highlight of the day.” With handcrafted cocktails, deliberate wines and micros, EAT offers familiar meals with a creative spin—just to keep the flavors lively.
RFL: What memory infuses the efforts you put into such a heartfelt kitchen?
“There is nothing more memorable, gratifying, and intimate, nothing more real, than sitting down to a meal with others. It allows us to feel so connected to one another and gifts us the opportunity to feel human. At EAT, the baking and cooking starts early in the day for me, especially when all the breads offered are made in-house. It amazes me that five simple ingredients (water, salt, sugar, yeast, and flour) can render the most brilliant food on earth: bread.
This reminds me of my childhood. I grew up on homemade bread. Saturdays were bread-baking days for my mom. Every so often she’d allow all of my siblings and me to sit around the kitchen table with homemade strawberry jelly, butter, and a hot loaf of white bread that she took right out of the oven. We weren’t allowed to touch anything on the table until she said, 'Go!' It only took seconds to break bread and leave nothing but a trail of crumbs on the table and jelly all over our face and hands. Eating that bread was the best feeling ever. It was soul food! It was pure and kind and human. It made me feel so happy.
I cook to nurture. Our scratch-made meals at EAT start off with the same feeling and anticipation. Everything we do is done with kindness and excellence. Good food brings people together.”