Chef’s mountain-town career spans 3 decades
summit daily news
FRISCO – When a 17-year-old David Welch moved to Summit County in 1978, working as a dishwasher at Keystone Ski Resort had two main draws – skiing and eating for free.
“I thought, ‘Sign me up,'” Welch said.
He washed dishes for one year, and working in the kitchen opened his eyes to all the “neat food” and the possibility of becoming a chef. Formerly from Iowa, the art of cooking had always been a big deal in Welch’s family, but he lacked the skills to do it himself.
“I started looking at what the chefs were doing, and I thought it looked cool,” Welch said.
So, he approached the head chef at Keystone resort and asked if he needed to go to culinary school. The head chef said “Don’t waste your money.” If Welch got some cooking experience that summer, he’d hire him back next winter and pay him to learn.
Welch started as a Keystone breakfast cook in 1979, and by 1983 he was the lead saute cook at the resort.
And so began Welch’s career as a top chef spanning three decades, awards and No. 1 ratings. He’s cooked at top restaurants all over Summit and Eagle counties, but spent the bulk of his career cooking for the Ski Tip Lodge and Keystone Ranch. Under Welch’s tenure, the Keystone Ranch received the No. 1 rating from Zagat for Colorado from 1999-2001 – the Zagat Survey is the world’s leading provider of consumer survey-based information on where to eat, drink, stay and play throughout the world.
“That’s like going to the Super Bowl three years in a row and winning them all,” Welch said.
In the same time period, Welch also won a Chef of the Year award from Colorado Mountain College (for teaching and mentoring) and the Colorado Restaurant Association.
After years of work and study, Welch was ready to take on another challenge – opening his own restaurant. The master chef, along with a partner who was later bought out, opened Frisco’s Food Hedz in 2004. Its original concept was to serve breakfast and lunch, but the mornings were slow. When Welch added dinner to the menu in 2005, “it really took off.”
As business picked up, his wife, Patti – who used to work as the director of conference services at Copper Mountain Ski Resort – joined her husband at Food Hedz by running the front and the restaurant’s catering business. It was a risk to give up her stable job. Even so, Welch said he thought it was the right decision.
Food Hedz was thriving.
But when the chef ripped his left ring finger off in a freak accident on Halloween 2009, his cooking career could have been over. Instead, a top surgeon, Dr. Randy Viola, rebuilt Welch’s finger to his first knuckle using nerve and tissue transplants, since his real finger couldn’t be reattached. He had a second surgery in November to finish the job.
“It was not fun at all,” Welch said of the accident. “The whole bone was sticking out.”
Welch now says his hand is 95 percent back after numerous months of physical therapy.
“I consider myself lucky,” he added. “I can hold the knife. … This is our livelihood.”
When Welch isn’t cooking, he can be found skiing in the backcountry or planning ice-climbing adventures. Welch spent the last two decades chasing summits on Denali and Mount Foraker in Alaska. He’s summited Denali twice, but Foraker’s peak has been elusive.
“The best part of living in Summit County is that May and October are slow,” Welch said. “It just so happens that the climbing season in Alaska is May. After being bit by the climbing bug in 1991, I was ready to quit (cooking) and climb full-time, but that takes money.”
So, Welch kept at his first passion to fund his second, and throughout the 1990s he went on big climbing trips every other year.
Caitlin Row can be reached
at (970) 668-4633 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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