“I’m just a farm kid from Rapid City, Iowa,” Old Major Executive Chef Justin Brunson quips as he casually, but meticulously, shucks oysters for a crowd. The half shells are picked up as soon as he puts them down. “These are Beausoleil from New Brunswick. They’re the best oyster. Actually, oysters are my favorite way to start a meal; oysters and a white Burgundy.” We are standing in Foxwood Room, Old Major’s new private dining room. Justin is humbly manning the oyster bar next to a spread of other scrumptious dishes: charcuterie, fried chicken, pork belly, and a taco bar of duck confit pork. Of course, a pig’s head graces the table, reminding us that the food we are putting in our bellies has a source – and that source isn’t a shrink-wrapped package at the grocery store.
Justin is about the most congenial guy you’ll ever meet. He has also been long-known in the Denver community as a guy who cares about, and actively promotes, hyper-local eating. His restaurants focus on high-quality ingredients, local sourcing, and simply good eating. The Foxwood Room, where I chatted with Justin, is just one of the recent additions to the Brunson & Co brand – and one of many coals Justin has in the fire. Not only is the Foxwood Room opening soon as a private event space, but he’s also opening a charcuterie meat processing plant later this year. Justin is also on the road producing a meaty show for the Food Network. All of this while maintaining his other restaurants, keeping sane going fishing on the weekends, and watching his health with his eating. Suffice it to say, this is a busy man on a big mission.
Outside of producing incredible meals for us lucky local eaters, Justin is in the midst of producing a show with the The Food Network. SEARious Meats follows Justin across the nation as he shares, well, meat. According to The Food Network, in this show he “steps into the protein-rich kitchens of some SEARious meat savants, to taste and celebrate their savory creations.” With his passion for thoughtful nose-to-tail animal use and preparing down-to-earth meat dishes for food lovers, Justin is obviously the perfect host for this show. He was just filming in Nashville last week, and the pilot was reportedly filmed in Denver. We will be watching!
I mentioned a more personal topic earlier that Justin is happy to share and talk about, and frankly, it’s top of mind for many of us. How can we stay healthy and at the same time, enjoy the incredible food we love? “I’ve lost 60 pounds since last year,” he shared with us. How has he done that? Chef Justin discussed a few techniques he’s implementing, and it focuses on portion control. “I’m at five restaurants constantly tasting food. If you don’t watch what goes in your mouth, you can be up to 5,000 calories in no time!” He also told us he starts every morning off right with two eggs cooked with spinach. I’m sure his wife, who was vegan for many years, also points him in the right direction with healthy meals.
Red Bear American Meats is another innovative enterprise on the horizon. Along with several others, Chef Justin is opening a 6,000-square foot, USDA-inspected meat processing plant in north Denver. This facility allows him to produce high-end charcuterie on a grand scale for a wider reach. “I can’t wait to get into the processing business,” he told us as he continues to shuck oysters. How will Red Bear American Meats fit into the food purveying landscaped of Colorado? Local farmers will bring their whole animals or cuts to RMC to be smoked, cured, and dried into a variety of charcuterie products. These goods will then be distributed to the public through local and national grocery chains. Red Bear American Meats is slated to open in 2018, and we will share more information as a date is firmed up.
The Foxwood Room is a private entertaining area attached to the Old Major restaurant in the LoHi neighborhood, and the most recent addition to the Brunson & Co lineup. It fills a vital need in Denver’s restaurant landscape: a well-planned private dining space with access to a superb menu and staff. Foxwood boosts two stories, a garage-door that can be opened during nice weather, and a projector. The space is appropriate for casual cocktail parties or more formal sit-down affairs. Notably, they’ve also partnered with Cloth & Gold to bring you full table décor options. That means less preparation and planning for clients with special events, and the confidence of handing off design work to skilled, local designers that will elevate the event ambiance. Time to start planning your rehearsal dinners, football games, and Bachelorette brackets!
Chef Justin, we already loved you, your staff, and the incredible food you bring to Denver. Now you’ve endeared us even further with your new amazing ventures that continue to promote local foods and connect people with high-quality dining.
Now go take a day off for fishing, Justin. You deserve it.