Meet CMB's new chef
We recently noted the arrival of Eric Brenner to Colorado Mountain Brewery (cmbrew.com), where he'll oversee both locations as corporate executive chef. Brenner hails from St. Louis, where after working for the Ritz-Carlton, he opened his own allergy-friendly restaurant, — "way ahead of its time, in 2004" — called MOXY. Its success launched an extensive consulting career, and over the decade, Brenner has worked with 20 clients, including Isle of Capri Casinos, with 15-plus locations.
"I'm usually contracted to flip, develop, open or expand," he says, adding that he's worked in places ranging from a Creole burger bar to a soul food night club to a small coffee shop chain. He's also helped launch an organic, gluten- and dairy-free frozen pizza line called Bold Organics, which you'll find in grocery shops locally. In late 2014, he won an episode of Guy's Grocery Games on the Food Network.
"My goal is always to work with whoever employs me to grow their business and take whatever dreams they have and make it reality," he says. "I work with the owners, meet investors, work with the staff — I've created lots of new cooks and chefs ... it's important to me that if you say you work at CMB as a cook, that has some weight now."
Of course, making big changes successfully can't happen overnight. "It's like steering a barge," he says. "You make very slow, incremental moves so you don't throw anybody off the boat. Slow turns, so they understand where you're going."
Brenner, now 45, has been coming to Colorado annually for vacations since he was 18 — "It's where I came to connect and get inspired," he says. While recently visiting a friend in Denver, he saw CMB's Craigslist posting and jumped at the opportunity to live here and to steer CMB's future.
"They reached out to me to give the business a grounding and a purpose. Their mantra, 'The true taste of Colorado,' was intriguing to me. What is that? ... I've settled on it being a balance of what people here actually eat and what the outside world thinks people in Colorado eat — and I lean heavily on the fact that this is a brewery."
But Brenner says he wanted to go beyond just using beer in sauces. So he's incorporated brewery grain-bill items into the menu, such as rye, barley and wheat berries. For example, the latter appears "cooked down like a risotto and folded into a lemon aioli" within a Colorado Smoked Trout app. Pickled veggies add an acidic element and pay tribute to our short growing season and preservation methods.
Other new plates include vegetarian sweet potato chilaquiles, duck poutine, and a Colorado lamb Bolognese. The chef tried to change CMB's popular venison egg rolls, which he saw as a thematic disconnect, into an empanada plate. Customers pushed back, so the egg rolls returned. "I want people to know that I hear them," he says, because owners, backers and laborers aside, it's the customers whose voices matter most.