Hosea Rosenberg: Top Chef winner still at the top of his game


These days, it’s hard to turn on the television without being forced to navigate channel after channel of idiotic reality shows glorifying the least attractive aspects of human society.  I am as guilty as the next person of “getting stuck” on one or two of these programs, yet my greatest vice when it comes to reality TV is, and has always been, cooking shows.

Whether or not you indulge in such saliva-inducing series, any local foodie is sure to recognize the title Top Chef, mainly due to fact that our own Boulder celebrity chef, Hosea Rosenberg, was crowned the winner of season five in March of 2009.

Though I had only seen snippets of the show myself, I was well aware of Rosenberg’s acclaimed talents as he cooked for my parents after they won his services at a charity auction.  I had also heard and seen photos of dinners he’d prepared for close friends of mine, and luckily for me, I landed an invite to one of them last weekend.

Originally from Taos, New Mexico, Chef Hosea transplanted to Boulder for college, earning himself a degree from CU in Science in Engineering Physics.  When I expressed my shock at his change in direction from astronomy to a career in cooking, he didn’t see it as such a drastic shift.  “I just realized that I loved cooking.  I had always worked in restaurants, even in high school.  After college I was working out of a cubicle for this scientist doing research for NASA, and I was just uninspired.”

As a child, Hosea resided on his father’s goat farm where they milked the animals, made cheese, and he learned what it meant to grow everything you eat.  After his parents divorced and he and sister moved in with their single working mom, they had to learn how to fend for themselves. “We learned to be comfortable being resourceful, using a stove and all that.  Then, when I started my first restaurant job as a dishwasher in high school, I learned a lot about cooking from the chefs and I loved it.”

Since his dishwashing days, he has come a long way, working with chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Dave Query, founder/owner of the Big Red F Restaurant Group.  “I don’t think there is one person who has been the most inspirational,” says Rosenberg. “I’ve learned a lot of things from a lot of people.  Kevin Taylor and Sean Yontz taught me about technique—the nuts and bolts of cooking—and I learned a lot about business and running a restaurant from Dave Query.  Just from working with so many big chef icons, the biggest thing I’ve taken away is how to cook from your heart and not your head, which is so important.”

Chef Hosea has won numerous titles and competitions in the culinary world, the most notorious being his televised victory on Bravo’s Top Chef, an experience he describes as “hell!”  Despite the grueling competition and cutthroat challenges, winning meant a whole new set of open doors in addition to many long-lasting relationships. “It was hard, but I made a lot of great friends on the show and from other seasons.  I made great connections with great chefs and got to cook with some of the heroes out there.”  After being a contestant on the show, Hosea started a food truck called StrEAT Chefs, highlighting global flavor with local ingredients, though he and partner Laura Rice decided to shut down the project due to the abundance of city ordinances that forced them to operate largely outside of any main downtown areas.

Today, Hosea is busy running his catering business Blackbelly Catering, named for the sheep kept on Blackbelly Farm owned by his friend from whom he leases land. Chef Hosea is passionate about eating food that represents where you are and what time of year it is, and he takes great pride in being able to personally source most of his own foods for the business including overseeing the raising of Blackbelly’s animals, all of which are fed organic vegetarian diets. The farm provides the majority of produce and meat for his catering endeavors including pigs, sheep and chickens, much of which I had the pleasure of enjoying at last week’s party.

The theme for the evening, which Hosea helped conceptualize, was a play on the movie Silence of the Lambs.  With lots of input from the hostess, he created a stellar five-course menu, each dish drawing inspiration from famous lines in the film.  Whatever ingredients Blackbelly could not provide—including the lamb, as they were all too young—were brought in from other local farms with the exception of the Hudson Valley duck.

Every single element of the meal, from the color to the texture to the presentation, was outstanding.  The amuse bouche—wild boar tenderloin seared rare and served with parsnip purée, apples two ways, maple syrup and sage—was a clever take on the scene from Hannibal in which a victim is fed to a herd of wild boar.

It was no surprise that the first course consisted of cast iron seared duck foie gras, (i.e. liver) and fava beans paired with a nice Chianti. Also to grace the plate was confit of duck leg cooked slowly in duck fat, roasted flame grapes, and keeping with the theme, a garnish of lamb’s lettuce, also known as mâche.  This was all served on a fig mustarda—dried figs, vinegar, wine, mustard and shallots cooked way down into a paste—which Hosea accurately described as “sweet, sour and savory in one.”

The next course, my favorite, was lightly breaded lamb sweetbreads on top of roasted cauliflower, golden raisins, potato gnocchi, hazelnuts, and homemade bacon “from our piggies.”  When the main dish was brought in, the room went quiet and Chef Hosea announced, “Okay guys… This is the silence of the lambs,” before introducing the perfectly oven roasted rack of Colorado lamb served along side a trio of sauces, fresh picked mustard greens, and dehydrated black olives.

Not disregarding the vast quantities of alcohol having been consumed throughout the meal’s pairings, Hosea aptly introduced the dessert as “less refined than the other plates we’ve had so far; it’s a bit messy, but I figure you’re getting to that stage anyway!”  The plate still looked better than anything I could have assembled, boasting a liquid chocolate soufflé cake, espresso chocolate pudding with candied blueberries and orange caramel sauce, and a s’more with two types of chocolate and homemade graham crackers and marshmallows.  To find out more about the party, visit fancyfunk.com/quid-pro-quo.

Some of the plans that Rosenberg and his team have in the works for Blackbelly Catering include getting more animals and starting a charcuterie to cure their own meats.  They are also building an outdoor kitchen on the farm to host dinners and events, and are currently searching for a restaurant space in the Boulder/Denver area out of which they can run the catering business.

Overall, I was blown away by Hosea’s culinary artistry, but even more impressed by his laid-back persona and complete normalcy.  As for any more on-screen plans for the celebrity chef?  He confirmed that there is definitely something under way, but for the time being, his lips are sealed.

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