Chef Jennifer Jasinski – Denver, CO

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About Chef Jennifer Jasinski

James Beard award-winning Chef Jennifer Jasinski opened her first restaurant, Rioja, in Denver’s Historic Larimer Square to critical acclaim in 2004, featuring a menu inspired by Mediterranean ingredients and influenced by local and seasonal products.

Jasinski trained at the Culinary Institute of America, making the Dean’s List and unsettling more than a few teachers by challenging their principals or techniques.

After graduation, Jasinski worked at the Rainbow Room under renowned restaurateur Joe Baum and Chef André Rene, which gave her the real foundation of her training. The turning point in her career came from a chance meeting with a guest at the restaurant – Wolfgang Puck.

Jasinski was soon drawn back to sunny California (a native of Santa Barbara) where she landed a job at the prestigious Hotel Bel Air.  Here she was re-acquainted with Puck, and embarked on a long and creative working relationship which took them around the country.  Her impressive restaurant credits include 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.

In 2000, Jasinski settled down in Denver, one of the stops she fell in love with on the Wolfgang Puck tour. She became Executive Chef at Panzano, where she had the opportunity to work with future business partner Beth Gruitch.  In 2004, Jasinski and Gruitch opened their first venture together, Rioja, to rave revues.

In 2004, she was named Colorado Chef of the Year and then 2005 Western Regional Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation,  In April 2006, Jasinski and Gruitch purchased Bistro Vendôme, a classic French bistro located across the street from Rioja.

Rioja and Bistro Vendôme are consistently listed amongst the top restaurants in Denver. Jasinski has been named Chef of the Year, Best New Chef, Rising Star and more in Restaurant Hospitality, Nation’s Restaurant News, The Denver Post and 5280 Magazine. In 2007, she was the Jean Yancey award winner in the National Association of Women Business Owners Outstanding Women in Business awards presented by the Denver Business Journal.

In 2013, she was awarded the James Beard Best Chef  Southwest, and she was also a finalist on Bravo’s wildly popular Top Chef Masters.

Now, read our interview with this amazingly talented chef:

H2FAL:  How did you get your start in cooking?

JJ: I loved food as a kid and I loved cooking with my grandma (Darling) that is what we called her. Then I started to cook for my mom, brother and sister. My mom was a single parent and she was also going back to college to get her masters degree so she was super busy, I just loved to cook.

H2FAL:  What brought this California girl to Denver and what do you love about the Mile High City?

JJ:  when I was working with Wolfgang Puck, we came to Denver a few times to do big parties and I really just fell in love with the city. I love the people in Denver, always willing to try new and fun things and the weather is great, I also love the outdoors. My husband Max and our two dogs are big hikers.

H2FAL:  Your career navigated you through Chef Wolfgang Puck’s kitchens for a good some time.  What was it like working with him, and how did influence your path to becoming the chef you are today?

JJ: Wolf taught me to see everything, he really cared about the whole guest experience, he noticed if a table was crooked as much as if a sauce was made poorly. His attention to detail has carried over into my management style.

H2FAL:   If you were on Iron Chef, what ingredient would you hope to be themed for the cooking battle?

JJ:  Artichokes – they are one of my favorite veggies and so versatile, also my signature dish is an Artichoke Tortelloni

H2FAL: You have won countless awards for your outstanding culinary endeavors, including winning the coveted James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest.   Congratulations!  How do you feel about all this recognition and do you feel it’s had a positive impact for your restaurants?

JJ: I do feel very lucky to have garnered the accolades, it has drawn new people in to my places and especially brought out of towner’s in to try the restaurants. So very lucky

H2FAL:  You are such an inspiration to so many, on so many levels.  In particular, do you have any advice for young female cooks considering a career as a chef, but are concerned that the field may still feel dominated by males?

JJ: My only comment or advice is do what you love! If you go out and get a job cooking and you love it, you love the hours, the heat, the craziness, then do it. If you don’t like all those things than maybe its not for you.

H2FAL:   What’s your indulgence food?

JJ: Rosé wine, kinda a food

H2FAL:   Is there anything you won’t eat?

JJ: Green peppers

H2FAL:   Congratulations on your amazing journey on Top Chef Masters…you competed up to the very end!  What was it about Top Chef Masters that intrigued you to compete?

JJ:  I had watched the show and felt it would be a good test of my skills, so I wanted to put myself out there and see how I would do, and I did pretty good.

H2FAL:   To date, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment as a chef?

JJ: The 4 amazing restaurants I own with my partners, they are all delicious, and unique, I employ 250 people, that is amazing

H2FAL:   What’s an upcoming trend in food?

JJ: Granitas, but we have been doing a granite program at Stoic & Genuine for 2 years so I like to be ahead of the trend

H2FAL:   What’s the most exciting thing on Chef Jasinksi’s culinary horizon?

JJ: Teaching/coaching Jorel Piece to take my job! He is our next generation great chef!


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