From the Outside In

 Chef Josh Niernberg at his newest restaurant, Tacoparty, in Downtown Grand Junction 

Chef Josh Niernberg at his newest restaurant, Tacoparty, in Downtown Grand Junction 

So what is it that we have? What makes us #thenewwest? What defines the Western Slope as a unique destination? We have something nobody else does in quite the same way. We have a certain “sense of place.”

    It was a huge honor when the call came in: “We would like you to represent Colorado as one of the Denver FIVE.” The FIVE is a group of chefs (typically from Denver) chosen to represent Colorado at the James Beard House in New York every fall. I have been familiar with the group for years, but joining their 11th season is an honor I would have never imagined, being from Grand Junction.

    In the last few years, I’ve been privileged to represent the state of Colorado at culinary-themed events in Austin, Mexico City, and Chicago. We have hosted food media, wine media, writers, and tastemakers in the Grand Valley. We have showcased the valley at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic and at the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver in January.

    I am far from alone in this representation of our area. Brenda Wray and Theo Otte’s 626 on Rood has been named as a top-10 wine bar in the country by USA Today. They were included in the 2017 Good Food 100 Restaurants list for their commitment to responsible sourcing, and they have been named a Colorado Proud restaurant by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

    This spring, John Sabal’s Palisade Café was named by Thrillist as “The Best Small Town Restaurant in Colorado.” For a state that just hosted Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” and has no shortage of small towns with amazing restaurants, the Palisade Café’s recent accolades are nothing short of incredible!

    With all this said, many within our area don’t seem to celebrate our dining community to the same extent as those from outside it do. This has always perplexed me. In fact, my marketing efforts of our restaurants are primarily done outside of the Grand Valley, as our largest successes have come from others outside the Grand Valley telling those of us in the Grand Valley just how good our food scene is! 

    To us, we have a handful of restaurants — some local, some chains, some inexpensive, some expensive, some casual, and some fancy — not unlike anywhere else. To our tourists and visitors, we have consistently great restaurants with unique offerings and impeccable service, and our restaurants are collectively far less expensive than similar restaurants around the country. When all of these factors are combined, it creates a dining scene far better than the sum of its individual parts. This unique combination creates a sense of place that is specific to us, authentic, and impossible to recreate elsewhere.

    Our tourism, reputation, and marketability are paramount to the success of our economy. Our image is an ever-evolving one that celebrates assets including our culinary scene, our winemakers and agri-tourism resources, and — of course — our outdoor recreation. These are just a few of many aspects that continue to define us as #thenewwest. 

    I hope to continue to showcase and help define the Western Slope through food and our expression of Colorado cuisine, and I believe our unique sense of place should be celebrated by all of us! As Spoke+Blossom continues to show us the best of our area, I encourage all of us to celebrate the makers that have been and will continue to be unique to Western Colorado while building our sense of place! 

Josh Niernberg is the owner of Bin707 Foodbar, Tacoparty, and Dinnerparty in Grand Junction.