By Angeline Grenz | Photos by Ben Bradley Photography
It’s where you go to celebrate a special occasion. Top Denver chefs consistently name it one of their favorite restaurants. And it is helping to redefine what was once a sleepy bedroom community. Windsor’s Chimney Park Restaurant has a rock star reputation in Northern Colorado and beyond. It is no wonder that owner and executive chef Jason Shaeffer has been named by the people of Northern Colorado as Best Chef in our 2019 Best Of NOCO survey.
Chimney Park has operated out of downtown Windsor for almost 13 years, and Shaeffer’s latest project, Hearth Restaurant and Pub, opened across the street in 2015. Both restaurants have become staples in the Windsor community. How does Shaeffer stay motivated? And what attributes to his success at two vastly different restaurants?
Throughout the years, Shaeffer has proved that quality seasonal ingredients are the hallmark of his menu. His wine program at Chimney Park is his other claim to fame, having earned the designation of Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2015, and with the goal of attaining their next coveted honor, the Best of Award of Excellence, in the future. (For reference, you must have 90 wine selections for the Award of Excellence. Best of Award of Excellence requires 350 selections.)
But these elements are not new or unique to fine dining. What truly stands out is Shaeffer’s daily Chef’s Tasting Menu at Chimney Park. The menu is totally chef-driven, rarely repeated and completely creative…a table of four might end up with four different dishes during each of the five courses. It is an experience unparalleled in Northern Colorado, and possibly anywhere along the Front Range.
The restaurant veteran attributes much of his success to his team, including Chimney Park’s chef de cuisine John Gutierrez, and sous chef Caroline Curtis, and Hearth’s chef de cuisine Justin Miner, and sous chef Ryan Brown. However, Shaeffer arrived in sleepy Windsor with some impressive culinary clout.
Shaeffer hails from the East Coast, raised in Virginia. He attended Johnson & Wales University, working as chef in Rhode Island, Chesapeake, Outer Banks and beyond. He has worked under chef Trey Foshee at George’s California Modern and chef Dough Organ at Laurel, both in San Diego. These “demi-god chefs,” as he calls them, helped him continue to advance until a fateful day he met famed chef Thomas Keller when Keller came in for dinner at Laurel. A year later, Shaeffer landed in New York and worked under Keller’s tutelage at the prestigious Per Se.
“My drive to get to this level of cooking, technique and fine dining was just something I had inside me, and I wanted to be able to produce dishes similar to those we were all seeing in these famous chefs’ cookbooks,” says Shaeffer. When the opportunity arose to start his own project, he headed to Colorado and ended up in Windsor, much to our benefit.
“It is the same amount of pride and care but done in a completely different style.”
—Chef Shaeffer says of his newest restaurant, Hearth Restaurant and Pub
Chimney Park has taken countless awards, both local and national, throughout the years. One that stands out is 2016’s Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA) award. Chimney Park was one of 13 restaurants chosen for the award that year, but what was even more astounding to Shaeffer is that he had no idea it was coming his way.
“It was unexpected. This is where you are nominated, and then people actually come dine here [anonymously]…so when we got the award, I was just like, ‘Wow.’” Open Tables Top 100 is another meaningful award, taken in both 2011 and 2015, which is awarded based on guest reviews. He was especially surprised by 2015’s award. It was the year that he opened Hearth and was gone from the restaurant quite a bit.
“But I had Chef John with me for several years and that [award] was just a showing of how good our team is here.”
Hearth was Shaeffer’s second restaurant and one that was clearly chosen with Windsor’s needs in mind. It is more casual, family-friendly and approachable for diners than high-end Chimney Park, but Shaeffer says the menu and work put into the restaurant are no less demanding for him and his staff.
“It is the same amount of pride and care but done in a completely different style.” A second success for Shaeffer, who says the restaurant is consistently busy at dinner.
Shaeffer hasn’t rested on his laurels after this second project. Rather, he spends much of his time looking for ways to refine processes at both restaurants, looking for new efficiencies and better ways to grow. “We are always doing something new.” Among future projects is the possible expansion of Chimney Park, increasing the size of its current footprint.
Shaeffer retains his influence at both restaurants and still puts in those long hours, but with two very experienced chefs at the helm and relationships built on years of mutual benefit with his local farmers, Shaeffer and wife Joanna can spend most of their focus on planning and the business end of the restaurants, which employ over 70 people between the two. When he is off work, Shaeffer loves to travel to relax and for inspiration, and is a sports lover with ski slopes currently on his mind.
So, at the end of those long days what does Shaeffer curl up with to relax? Burgers and Southern food are among his comfort foods, but his ultimate comfort food is…a bowl of cold cereal. “Many nights I’ll come home and have not fully eaten at the restaurants, and it is the best thing available to get a quick meal in without making a mess or taking a bunch of time.” The chaser? “A couple fingers of Whistle Pig rye on a couple ice cubes—helps relax the nerves after a long day.”
“Our fall/winter seasonal favorite on the menu is the ‘Cappuccino’ of Hazel Dell Mushroom Soup. It is a solid mushroom soup recipe with layers of wonderful flavors and goodness,” says Chef Shaeffer.
Puree of Hazel Dell Mushrooms Soup
½ Yellow Onion, julienned
½ pound White Button Mushrooms
¼ pound Cremini Mushrooms
1/8 pound Shiitake Mushrooms
1/8 pound Oyster Mushrooms
Sachet (Parmesan Rind, Black Peppercorn,
Bay Leaves, Lemon Zest, Thyme, Parsley)
1.5 quarts Water
.75 Tbs. Salt
1 Tbs. Lemon Juice
1 ounce Parmesan
2 ounces Butter
Sweat onions. Add sachet. Add mushrooms. Sweat for a bit, then cover with water. Cook for 1.5 hours on low heat. Combine mushrooms and onions with parmesan and butter in batches. Blend each batch in food processor for at least 2 minutes on high. Add lemon juice and salt in increments, tasting as you go.