Chef Nicholas Kayser: Executive Chef, Vesta

My NativeAdVert:

A Cincinnati native raised in Denver, Chef Kayser received his bachelor’s degree at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Colorado. Kayser’s career began with a promising start as an apprentice under Master Chef Bryan Nagao, of Mao Restaurant and Hong Kong standout Town. After working through every station in Mao’s kitchen, Kayser landed a position at the Denver institution Mel’s Bar & Grill, a rite of passage shared with some of Denver’s best chefs, including Frank Bonanno, Tyler Wiard, Goose Sorensen, and Blair Taylor.

Stints in New York City followed, where Kayser worked in several internationally acclaimed restaurants including serving as Chef de Cuisine at Thomas Valenti’s Ouest. Kayser’s success at Ouest led to a position as Executive Chef at several Richard Sandoval concepts including Zengo, Yotel, and Maya, succeeded by opening The Smith at Lincoln Center and the Downtown Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Time in Hong Kong followed when Kayser was tapped by acclaimed chef Laurent Tourondel to take the role of Executive Chef at BLT Steak in Hong Kong. His time in Hong Kong, while exciting, fulfilling and successful, left him dreaming of his family and friends in Colorado and eventually led him to a momentous phone call with Vesta owner, Josh Wolkon, to discuss a great return to Colorado.

My Goal of the Day: To help educate the people around me at Vesta - guests, cooks and front of house staff. Education and communication are imperative to driving success through our restaurant as a whole community. When everyone is on the same page with one common goal, progress is made exponentially.

My Thought of the Day: To be the best me... so many little things in life can get in the way of attacking your goals, and when you keep the bigger picture at the top, the human mind and body can achieve things otherwise believed to be unachievable. The only thing one can control in the course of a given day, is to be the absolute best version of yourself, and everything else will follow.

My Action of the Day: To refine the food that we serve to our guests constantly at Vesta.  Constant refinement, analysis of where we buy food from, what food(s) we are serving to our guests, and the methods that we collectively use as a team to keep us challenged, and thinking more on a broad scale is the action I most focus on, on a daily basis.

While he has led kitchens for some of our country’s most notable chefs, Chef Kayser is thrilled to enjoy the culinary freedom and creative outlet of Vesta’s kitchen. Diners can look for Kayser to respect the world cuisine concept of Vesta while bringing a new and fresh approach to the menu format and culinary style of the 21-year old restaurant at 1822 Blake St.

My Pic of the Day:

A Day in My Life:

What do you love most about Your City?

Denver is where I grew up for most of my childhood, so there are a lot of memories from the Mile High city. The majestic mountain backdrop is still one of those daily visions that will never get old, the crisp mountain air, and the recently evolving dining scene are three of the more amazing things I love about Denver…oh, and don’t forget about Red Rocks during concert season.

In regards to the Denver restaurant scene, I think it has made some serious strides in the past five years. It is super refreshing to be in a city where chefs put Denver on the national register of culinary cities in the U.S. The philanthropy that is extended from chefs around town to give back to our community, as well as to raise the stakes from the old perception of such a “meat and potatoes” town is very exciting. All of the talent that is in this city, as well as from those who’ve migrated here over the past couple years, really raises the bar. There is an expectation for amazing dining experiences, more transparent purchasing practices and a commitment from the chefs and restaurateurs to remain at the top of the game.

Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?

I’m pretty simple when it comes to starting my day. I am a big coffee drinker, and I think my New York culinary roots keep me focused on bagels, and breakfast sandwiches when I get the urge to eat before noon. Rosenberg’s Bagels is a great spot when I need something quick in the morning, but to be honest, if I go for a brunch option that is a bit more significant, I have really been digging Stowaway as of late. They offer great, eclectic breakfast options, a cool country style setting, and amazing coffee and juice options.

What are you doing at:

6:00 AM – Sleeping… I close the restaurant during the week most nights, so at 6am, I am still trying to squeeze in my “beauty rest”. I usually start my day in the 7am-8am hour.

10:00 AM – At 10am, I am typically walking through the door to Vesta. We are closed for lunch, so Vesta is a great place to get a couple of hours of quiet work done before the cooking starts and the team shows up for their shifts. Brian, my AM sous chef is here, and rolling in his prep list for the day, so it’s a great time to get some crossover with him, make sure he is set up for his day, and get a game plan together in regards to the specials for the night, and really carve out what my work day will be like for the duration.

12:00 PM - Favorite Lunch spot/meal?

My favorite Lunch/meeting spot is Mercantile. There are options for everyone, including walk up counter options, and it’s located right around the corner from us, so makes for a super convenient spot to meet for a quick bite, or to work through some things with family, farmers, purveyors, staff, and managers alike.

7:00 PM - At 7:00pm we are fully engaged in service. Being a dinner-only restaurant, all of our clientele focuses on our feature service, and by 7pm, we are in prime time with our Vesta diners. I like to split my time between being on the line cooking, and working the expo line on busier nights to interact a little more frequently with our guests and regulars. That way I stay in touch with both the food we are serving, as well as our guests.

11:00 PM – At 11pm I am wrapped up and heading out of the restaurant. I might be on my way home for the night, or out to one of the many places Denver has to offer for a late night libation. A few of my top spots are Bar Dough, Canopy, Star Bar, Meadowlark and Falling Rock.

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

During work and throughout the day, I am a big tea drinker. Usually of the iced varietal to keep my body temperature down in the kitchen, and sometimes with the accompaniment of lemonade (those Arnold Palmers are so darn refreshing!), tea is my main go-to. After work, I enjoy a dry cider, a glass of wine or a cocktail as we wrapped up service. For my late night libations; Negroni’s, or some sort of gin based cocktail is my definite choice.

Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?

When I am not researching food, I’m on ESPN. The sports culture is alive and well in our kitchen, and with Denver being such a consummate sports town, the need to keep up with what’s going on is important to me. I follow a lot of chefs on Instagram to keep in touch with the people I have worked with/for in the past, and to keep up with some of the more modern techniques in cooking and plate presentations. The art of plating, cookniche, gastroart are some of my favorites and most closely followed users, and the Mossimo Batturas, Thomas Kellers, and Grant Achatz’s of the world are definitely some of the chefs that I keep a close eye on.

What should everyone try at least once?

Everyone should try and do something that they have absolutely no idea about at least one time in their lives. In order to find out what really makes you tick, you must put yourself in a position that completely lifts you out of your comfort zone, and into a position of full immersion to the situation around you. Those that stay within the confines of complacency, will never be able to experience the true personal gratitude that comes with completely losing yourself in an experience, and therefore never get to see the world from someone else’s perspective. You can always go back to what makes you comfortable if what you try doesn’t excite you, but if you never try anything in the first place, how do you know what you are even missing?

Where do you enjoy getting lost?

The foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Sunday hikes during the summertime are a favorite. Different trails around Colorado, fishing lakes, and waterfall hikes really take my mind out of the kitchen and to a place of serenity. Outside of that, international travel is something that needs to happen at least twice a year for me. Getting to place that I have never travelled to, preferably with a beach, is necessary for my well-being. I love all things about Colorado, but the one thing I miss, is access to the water (the ocean specifically). The ocean is the most powerful thing in the world, and it is truly magical to completely submerge yourself in it, and everything that it brings.