Tim Kuklinski: Executive Chef, Rioja

Denver is lucky to be the last stop for Tim Kuklinski. A peripatetic childhood took him back and forth across the country. Stops in Rome, New York; Pottstown, Pennsylvania; Norman, Oklahoma; Tucson, Arizona and Omaha, Nebraska preceded finally settling in Denver for his culinary school education at Johnson & Wales University. He met and befriended chef Jorel Pierce, another JWU undergrad, and together they advanced through the job progression at Rioja to form the backbone of the kitchen. Tim took 6 months away from the Rioja kitchen to round out his skills at Euclid Hall, a sister restaurant serving hand cranked sausages, poutines, schnitzels and upgraded international pub food. He has also staged at Michelin-starred Grace and Graham Elliott in Chicago.

What do you love most about Your City?

There are so many things to love about Denver. I love the proximity to solitude. My life is constantly filled with alerts, text messages, emails, questions, deadlines, and the ability to handle a stressful situation with grace and a level head. It is nice to take a 20 minute drive into the mountains and not only take a literal breath of fresh air, but to take a break from the din on day to day life.

Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?

I don’t often go out for breakfast because it is some of the only time I have with my family. Most of the time it is normal things – blueberry waffles, scrambeled eggs, avocado toast, but there is one breakfast I look forward to every year. It is the first heirloom tomato that becomes ripe from our garden. The tomato gets a sprinkle of grated parm and topped with sunny eggs and crunchy salt. Simple and always delicious.

What are you doing at:

6:00 AM – Praying for another hour sleep. I have two kids, 4 years old and 6 weeks, they often wake up super early. But, sometimes the stars align and my wife and I get another 1-2 hours of magical rest.

10:00 AM - Starting to get my head straight for work. I begin by thinking about the priorities of the day as I’m getting ready.

12:00 PM - Favorite Power Lunch spot/meal?

Most days I’m finishing up checking emails and checking on the crew to make sure that everyone has what he or she needs to be successful for the day.

Again, I don’t go out much for lunch – I often eat from the lunch menu at one of the restaurants in the group. I love the lamb burger at rioja, the tuna melt at stoic & genuine, the piri piri chicken at Ultreia, and the poutines at Euclid Hall

7:00 PM -  This is Zen time. 30 tickets on the rail and a dining room full of eager people. All distraction melts away and there is nothing in the world but me, my crew, and the food.

11:00 PM - Wind down time. The crew is cleaning on the line BS – ing about how the miracle that they just pulled off is better than the miracle the person next to them just pulled off. I’m in the back writing prep lists and checking par levels to set up the upcoming day. Communicating is essential and making sure that any issues that happened during service are not repeated the next day.

What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?

The Last Word is one of my favorite cocktails – 1 is usually enough. On difficult days we drink a PBJ – Pabst Blue Ribbon and Jamison – it’s not wise to keep track of how many.

Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?

I am a baseball fan in general and a HUGE Rockies fan specifically. I check the MLB app pretty much constantly during the season. I really enjoy the Michelin Instagram account because it does not focus on any one person in particular. It allows me to be inspired by some the best from what our profession has to offer.

What should everyone try at least once?

No one should ever limit themselves or sensor themselves in any way. I can not tell you how many times I have thought I didn’t like something, tried it again, and the bite left me giggling because it was so delicious. As with anything in life it is important to keep an open mind.

Where do you enjoy getting lost?

I love getting lost in most big cities. In particular NYC and Chicago are so much fun because you never know where you will end up and what you will experience.   




Photo Credit: Jennifer Olson