Summit restaurateur makes Hall of Fame
FRISCO When local restaurateur Bobby Starekow discovered Summit County more than 35 years ago, he decided to hang up his stethoscope and rethink his game plan.I was going to be a doctor, he admits with a laugh. I had already finished pre-med, but after I came here and saw the mountains, I never finished med school. Once you get here, its awfully hard to leave.Next week, the chef, restaurateur and author will be inducted into the Colorado Restaurant Association Hall of Fame, which is also celebrating its 30th anniversary. As the co-owner of three Summit County restaurants the legendary Silverheels at the Ore House in Frisco, the Incline Bar and Grill at Copper Mountain, and Nick-N-Willys Pizza in Silverthorne Starekows culinary skills are well-known to legions of locals as well as tourists. But like many a Summit County resident, Starekow first came here on a ski vacation during his college years and ended up tending bar.The native Minnesotan first came here to ski in 1972, and took a job as a bartender at the Rathskeller Pub at Arapahoe Basin. But he found that, while tending bar, he really wanted to be in the kitchen.When I was a kid, I was always bringing brownies to the baseball games instead of playing, and it wound up with my family giving me cookbooks and encouraging me, he said.He finally got his wish when he took a job at the Snake River Saloon in 1975.I really started tinkering in the kitchen at the Snake, he said.After stints at several Summit County restaurants, Starekow gave in to his gypsy feet once more and moved to Springfield, Mo., for a few years, brushing up his kitchen and management skills. But when he returned to Summit in 1988, he was ready to achieve his goal of opening up Summit Countys first southwest cuisine restaurant.Silverheels at the Ore House had its first memorable incarnation at the old Silverheels Lodge in Wildernest. As both owner and chef, Starekow began to create his signature style by combining a unique blend of southwest spices with Colorado ingredients.I had a hankering to do a southwest-inspired cuisine, but as the years have passed it has evolved into a Colorado cuisine, he said. The hallmark of Colorado cuisine is using ingredients we find in this state, such as elk and venison in the winter, and different types of fish, such as Kokanee salmon and Rocky Mountain trout, he said. By these and applying a French technique for sauces, and also using inspiration from the southwest, such as Mexican herbs and spices, youve got a real Colorado cuisine.In 2000, Starekow moved his successful Silverheels restaurant to Frisco, where he still develops the menus and creates the dishes that bring his customers back time and again.Our customers have come to expect innovation from us, he said. The most important thing is to keep a concept fresh. You have to try a variety of things to keep peoples interest, even though you may not win on everything. Im not the kind of person to let things be it gets too boring. Ive had seven restaurants in the last 33 years, so you can tell that I like change, he added.One thing that keeps it exciting, Starekow said, is that people are more knowledgeable about food than ever before and even children are enthusiastic about trying new things.Its amazing, the number of kids eating sushi today, he said. This is a food innovation that wasnt known in the U.S. 20 years ago, except in New York and Los Angeles. Now, we even do a sushi night on Wednesdays at Silverheels.As the local chapter president of the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA), and a member of the board of directors, Starekow has long been committed to its work in protecting small business owners and providing scholarships to college-bound students.I believe in our mission, which is to protect the integrity of the restaurant industry, he said. We have watchdogs in the legislature, and we try to keep government intervention in small businesses to a minimum. Thats one of the most important functions we have.Another important function, Starekow said, is the creation of a scholarship, the Colorado Restaurant Association Education Fund, where tuition money is given to students who want to enter the food service industry. The association also sponsors the ProStart program, a career-building program that teaches culinary and hospitality industry skills to high school students.Being with the CRA has given me a whole new outlook on the restaurant business, he said. I enjoy the camaraderie it provides, and the support it gives the community.The nomination to the Hall of Fame, Starekow said, came as a complete surprise.Its a nice feeling to know that your peers in your own industry feel that youve mattered enough to be recognized, he said. Starekow added another feather to his cap 15 years ago, when in 1993 he collaborated with Pat Miller on a collection of Colorado cuisine, Haute Off the Press, featuring recipes from 20 Colorado chefs. The book is still available from bookstores and online sources such as Amazon.While Starekow doesnt spend much time in the kitchen anymore, he still creates the dishes and develops the menus in each of his restaurants. But he admits that the time has come to spend more time at home in Silverthorne with his family which includes his wife, Marla, and his 16-year-old son Xander.Im trying to spend more time not working quite as hard, he said. But I still cook whenever I can at home. We travel a lot, and I like to try unusual foods Im not afraid to put anything in my mouth.One project that Starekow would like to see come to fruition someday would be a museum showcasing the food history of Colorados restaurants, bars and saloons.It would be a fun retirement project, he said.In the meantime, Starekow said that he continues to be encouraged by the numbers of young people working in restaurants in Summit County.Its a great opportunity for a lot of kids, he said. Weve had amazing people kids who had engineering degrees and PhDs working in our restaurants over the years, waiting tables and washing dishes. These people are running corporations now. Its all about the reality of coming here as a ski bum and ending up in the food service industry.
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