The first time I spoke to Daniel Asher, he told me a story about hummus. He said he was thrilled when he first got it on a family tour of Israel, and it wasn’t what he was used to seeing back home in Chicago. It was lighter but tastier, and he was excited to bring that kind of quality to others.
He does thatnow with Denver and Boulder locations from Ash’Kara, a pair of restaurants focused on contemporary Israeli cuisine where he is executive chef and partner. Locally, he is also the ExecChief utive and partner of river and wood and drift wind at the Boulder Reservoir which are all under Working title Food group.
These are just the highlights of his recent CV, there is more to the story.
On a daily basis, Asher greets diners like the special and important act that he is and shows kindness to all who are nearby. When we met him, he gregariously gathered his staff for an enthusiastic, no-one photo. It was taken as the group smiled enthusiastically and shouted “pita”, and my camera shutter clicked.
Later, as he answered my questions, he talked about his father who was a Romanian Holocaust survivor who spent his life after the war trying to find an element of stability. “He and my mom met and fell in love, were based in Montreal and then moved to Chicago. Before that, he was constantly uprooted. For him, the kitchen expressed a much needed expression of security. My mom was at the center of it all and as soon as I was old enough to use a step stool and reach the counter, I was doing things with her.
When he was 14 and could legally work in a kitchen, Asher got his first restaurant job washing dishes and peeling potatoes at Fuddruckers. The experience was substantial.
“It was my gateway drug into the kitchen. It sealed my fate in the restaurant business,” he said. “Now, to me, all the frenetic energy of a busy dining room is like this magic of going to a concert, of entering a room with music, full of people. There is a human and collaborative experience of joy.
Beyond the words, it’s Asher’s attitude that makes the biggest impression. It’s hard to imagine a world where he doesn’t gregariously promote an ethical and nutritious approach to food and demonstrate (not just by speaking) that eating is a nurturing act for the soul.
“That’s what it is for me. Trying to connect the dots about who grew our carrots, what grains are in the pita bread, what olive oil is topping our hummus,” he said. “It’s about opening up a dialogue about having a high level of respect around food, the people who make it, grow it, love it.”
During our conversation I was the guest, eating pea shoot-tinged falafel made with Egyptian green beans and a dish of rice grains with saffron and turmeric and nigella seeds. Of course, the hummus he mentioned was also on the table – now in its creamy, savory style with red onion, parsley and chicken shawarma. All with a dazzling rose, eaten al fresco on Pearl St. on one of the really hot first Fridays in May.
There was definitely joy. No question.
Perhaps the way I experienced the meal was a reflection of something Asher said was central to his restaurants. “It’s the basis of ancient hospitality,” he said. “Inviting a stranger to replenish them to help restore them. To feel safe and loved in the midst of all that is going on in their life.