"Food is such a sensitive subject for people...I believe the psychological walls we have around what we will and won’t eat limit us in experiencing something new. I want to share new food experiences with as many people I can in a way that is non-threatening and fun."
Chef Jamie Rutherford talks to us about her life accomplishments, struggles, travels, and her non-stop mission with food.
Jamie Rutherford's love of the culinary arts has taken her around the world: Bangkok, Mallorca, New York, Washington DC, Oakland, Denver, and most recently relocated to Fort Collins, CO. Her extensive travels has instilled a deep appreciation for multi cultural cooking. Her menus strive to be local, seasonal and fresh - always emphasizing bright flavors and balance.
Chef Jamie is currently Culinary Director for one of Fort Collins most beloved coffee shops and the Chef of The Table, a community focused culinary project. She is thrilled to return to Fort Collins to be apart of the burgeoning food scene, and also to enrich the community connection through amazing food.
Tell us about your life as a landscaper, chef of fine dining and your travels – how do they connect to the point where you are now?
I fell into landscaping through my love of food and curiosity about agriculture. I spent some time studying permaculture in costa rica and started landscaping as a way to keep my hands in the dirt. I ran a high end organic landscaping company in San Francisco where we focused on edible, drought tolerant and native plantings in residential aesthetic gardens all over the bay area. I did that for nearly 12 years before I decided to return the focus back on food.
Fine dining holds a frustrated kind of love for me. The attention to detail, the passion and the artistry will always hold my heart, but the waste and lack of work life balance leave me feeling incomplete. I was fortunate to work in some amazing places and chose to work with chefs that focused on reducing waste and working with such intention that it has set a standard in me that I try to uphold daily.
One of the things I love about what I do is that I can get a job in any corner of the world and the language is the same. Kitchen people are the same everywhere and the camaraderie is second to none. I have a gypsy heart that I inherited from my mother and feel drawn to places far from my birth place. Visiting is nice, but living somewhere gives you a better a sense of the ritual of a place. If you had told me 10 years ago I’d be living in Fort Collins I would have laughed, and yet here I am because of all my traveling and I love it.
At what time in your life would you describe as an awakening for change?
The year I turned 27 my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She passed a year later, that same year I was hit by a car and lost a good portion of my normal mobility. I got married that same year, bought a house the next and then lost my sister to ARVD, a rare heart condition. Within a five year period I was in a downward spiral. So many stressful life changing events left me feeling miserable. I had a significant weight gain and was struggling with my mental and physical health. After weeks of sleepless nights from intense GERD I went to my doctor and he prescribed me prilosec and told me that was how it was for me from now on.
This was an ah-ha moment for me. I went home and cleared out my cabinets. Locked away the liquor and jumped on my ellyptical. I called a friend of mine, Dr. David Sundy, who had been my massage therapist for years and had just graduated from his chiropractic school and we put together a plan to get me back to health. He helped me rebuild the strength in my legs to accomodate for the lack of PCL, without resorting to surgery. I soon was boot camping with the best of them and gaining momentum and realization that life is far to short to allow it to just happen to you.
It became clear I needed to follow my passion for food and applied for a scholarship to culinary school which is how I ended up here and now.
Mug’s is a well established, popular place for Fort Collins diners. You came in at a crucial time for the restaurant renovations and also menu refresh. What was the process like for you?
Such a change and challenge and completely natural at the same time. From the minute I met Marli and McCabe I knew I wanted to work with them. It’s a welcome change of pace in my life and getting to be apart of the team in designing the remodel was wonderful.
What is the biggest change you would like to see for the Northern Colorado dining scene?
MORE ETHNIC FOOD! I love food from other countries and it helps our food culture grow. Supporting small independent places is the best way to grow your food community. The New York food scenes foundation was on the food from people from every corner of the world. I am always saddened when we refuse to pay top dollar for Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican food etc.. We expect these foods to be cheaper than American, French or Italian when just as much love and technique go into these cuisines. Celebrate flavor!
Tell us a little about your culinary mission and why it’s important to you.
Food is such a sensitive subject for people. It’s personal in a way that nothing else is. I love hearing from people who try something they never would have eaten or have proclaimed they hated in the past, that they like it now thanks to me. I believe the psychological walls we have around what we will and won’t eat limit us in experiencing something new. I want to share new food experiences with as many people I can in a way that is non-threatening and fun.
There are many special prix fixe menu events at Mug’s – can you tell us a little about the creative process for menu conception?
Prix Fixe menus give chefs a lot more freedom and ask the diner to trust and engage with us. I don’t believe this needs to be pretentious or in the realm of fine dining to open a dialog between us. My creative process is random and seasonally driven. I rely heavily on sense memory from places I have eaten and loved and draw from that as a source of inspiration. Food evokes a lot of emotional attachment for me and I want people to smile and make yummy noises when they eat something I have worked on.
What is your mantra?
Stealing from Laws Whiskey in Denver: There are no shortcuts. Life is to short to do something that doesn’t challenge you.
What advice would you give someone who is entering the culinary arts?
Grow a thick skin, but remain sensitive. If you’re young, throw yourself into the fire and chase down the restaurant that you feel is the most inspiring place to work. If you’re older, work twice as ard as the young person next to you. Shut up and pay attention to everything happening around you. Ask questions with your eyes, not your mouth. TASTE EVERYTHING!!! Travel!!!
What is your very favorite ingredient?
Fish sauce, without a doubt.
And lastly, what is your go to meal or snack?
Go to meal: Arugula, red onion, avocado lemon and olive oil, over medium egg. I’m usually to busy to cook for myself or my husband (the irony of being a chef!) If I have time I make Curries. I love curries and there are soooo many to choose from. Speaking of curries - thanks for the recipe!
JAMIE'S LAZY CHEF CURRY
1 TBS. toasted ground cumin
1TBS. tosted ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
6 cloves garlic
1” peeled and chopped ginger
1 large shallot peeled and chopped
½ C. cilantro stems and leaves
¼ C. water
PUREE ALL LISTED ABOVE UNTIL SMOOTH
1 Large onion diced
1 Large sweet potato diced
3 C. cauliflower florets
2 C. red potatoes quartered
1 can coconut milk
Fish sauce to taste
Thinly sliced red onion and lime wedges to garnish
In large heavy bottom pan with walls at least 2” tall fry curry paste until aromatic, do not let it burn! Add onion and cook for 2 minutes stirring often. Add remainder of the vegetables and toss in the spices and oil to coat, add coconut milk and just enough stock to come halfway up vegetables season with fish sauce till desired saltiness has been achieved. Be not scared! Simmer till liquid has a reduced a little and thickened. Watch out for over cooking the vegetables! Garnish with red onion and generous squeeze of lime.
- SUCH AN INSPIRING LIFE -
THANK YOU CHEF JAMIE!
To taste her amazing food, head to Mug's:
STEPHANIE, SAVI AND MARTY