Kelly Whitaker is no stranger to new concepts. Whether it’s learning how to mill his own flour, exploring new fermentation techniques or consulting on numerous projects, Whitaker doesn’t slow down. But even though he operates at an above-average pace, his latest endeavor already has him firing at all cylinders.
At The Wolf’s Tailor, you’ll find cooking methods from all over the globe — a result of a lifetime of travel and education in places like Hong Kong, Tibet, Japan and Italy. Just this week, Whitaker returned from the MAD conference in Copenhagen and is already incorporating his lessons learned. But despite his love of global cuisine, Whitaker’s menu doesn’t read like your typical mashing of cuisine.
“We’re not fusion food, we’re fusion technique,” as Whitaker likes to put it.
If you had to pinpoint it, the menu weighs heavily on Japanese and Italian influences. The one example of this is the Acqua Pazza which translates to crazy water ($50). The traditional Italian dish of red snapper marinated in seawater, tomatoes and olive oil gets a Japanese twist by using a dashi broth instead of seawater and a traditional donabe cooking vessel instead of terracotta. Other items like the “skewer” section pulls from both a Japanese and Italian love of grilling meats over charcoal and produce a tasty but simple bite. Even the bread combines a classic Italian piada with a red miso and eggplant puree for a super delicious combination (seriously don’t skip the bread). However, probably the most innovative section of the entire meal may come at the very end. The desserts menu is a familiar read at first — with items like panna cotta and a semifreddo dominating the list. But digging in deeper you’ll find caramel made from bonito flakes and cream steeped with miso or even soy sauce and black sesame sticking to a sweet popcorn. If anything, the dessert menu is where you’re likely to challenge and hopefully delight your taste buds the most.
But beyond the global ingredients, Whitaker and his team of chefs craft their menu based on another concept. Zero Waste — which infers the repurposing all of its scraps and other refuse — is a part of every process at The Wolf’s Tailor. On a basic level the restaurant composts, recycles and cuts down on general waste by removing things like straws and cocktail napkins. But when it comes to non-compostable food, it gets a lot more complicated and requires the team to employee an army of tools and techniques. For the pasta, the team mills their own flour which creates a bran byproduct. Typically the bran is thrown away or used for baking — but at The Wolf’s Tailor, they use it to pickle vegetables. Called Nukazuke, the team buries whatever they want to pickle (which may someday include pork belly) in the bran which in turn ferments via the bran’s active cultures. The result is a much crunchier vegetable that has a milder but still tangy taste. If a vegetable doesn’t make it to the fermenting process, it’ll often be dehydrated and used in dishes or on the “snacks” menu which will be served from 4 to 6 p.m. via a window in the garden. Other scraps like pasta leftovers will be fried and turned into chips or other garnishes.
Repurposing of leftovers also applies to any animal byproducts. This includes using a “living stock” which will be perpetually fed animal bones to create a never-ending broth. Similarly, the meat will be scraped from bones before they are put into the stock to make gluten-free dumplings. If they don’t end up in a broth, bones or oyster shells will be fed into the fire to create future charcoal.
However, according to Whitaker — the development of these techniques are far from over. After returning from his trip in Copenhagen the chef couldn’t help but feel like they have a long way to go.
“This is just day one,” he said.
The Wolf’s Tailor is located at 4058 Tejon St., Denver. It officially opens tomorrow September 1 for regular service it will be open Wednesday through Saturday, with backyard garden snacks beginning at 4 p.m. and dinner from 6 to 11 p.m. Omakase reservations can be made on Tock. Currently, the restaurant will not be open on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays — although that is subject to change.
All photography by Brittni Bell Warshaw.