The Masterful Simplicity of The Bindery in Denver
Renowned chef Linda Hampsten Fox shares the design inspiration behind the restaurant’s chic space as well as its seasonal menus
“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”
That fashion advice from the world’s most elegant woman, Coco Chanel, rings true for renowned chef Linda Hampsten Fox—for the design of her LoHi eatery as well as its seasonal menus.
“I found that when we were selecting materials and shaping the design of the bare-bones space,” Fox says, “it was more about what we didn’t want to do than what we did.”
The resulting restaurant, market and bakery is airy, bright and—unlike many of Denver’s multi-purpose eateries—nostalgic and intimate, inspired by her many years apprenticing with chefs in various culinary capacities, from the Cote d’Azur to precious vineyards in Tuscany and mountain chalets in Switzerland.
At various times of day, The Bindery boasts an exquisite selection of brunch, lunch, happy hour and dinner menus, and the market offers coffee drinks, fresh-baked goods, and prepared meals to take away. “I wanted it to feel like many European neighborhood eateries, where you can stop by morning, noon and night,” Fox says. “The design needed to have that ambiance: simple and timeless.”
If you’re a Denver foodie, you may have already heard of Linda Hampsten Fox. The chef and caterer boasts over 25 years of professional cooking experience and an impressive portfolio of celebrity clients—Jane Goodall, Michael York, Nancy Pelosi, Dave Matthews, Tom Shadyac, to name just a few—as well as institutions like Blue Sky Bridge, the Excelsior Foundation, the Colorado Music Festival and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. The Bindery, which opened in late October 2017, was voted Reader’s Choice for New Restaurant in 5280’s Top of the Town 2018 dining list.
We sat down for a Q&A with the culinary designer, whose new summer menu—to debut mid July—is crafted with seasonal authenticity (and an air of summer romance) in mind.
What first sparked your love of the culinary arts?
I grew up in a hardworking Polish-Czech immigrant family in New Jersey. There was always an emphasis on celebration and family, and food was such a large component of our day-to-day life. We didn’t have a lot, but my mom was such a great cook and was always searching for the highest-quality ingredients, whether it was tomatoes from her garden or visiting the local market.
You’ve traveled the world; what made you return to Colorado?
I went to college in Boulder and worked various restaurant and catering jobs there while in school and after graduating. Then, after living abroad for so long, when I had my daughter, I decided I wanted to stay in one place so that she could attend school. I love the city; I love Denver. It’s an exciting place to be, and the LoHi neighborhood was the right place for this restaurant concept to unfold.
What inspired the name, The Bindery?
It’s a nod to the heritage of the Lower Highlands. The area was a predominantly Italian neighborhood at one point. Avanti [Food & Beverage] was originally a printing press, and many buildings nearby were involved in the craft of binding books. That idea—of binding, both ingredients and community—just clicked.
What’s your favorite design element of the space?
The walls of windows, natural light, and views of the city skyline at night are just wonderful, but I was worried about the windows getting cold in the winter. After some research, I had geo-thermal radiant heat installed under the floor tiles to make sure every seat was comfortable. That led to a strong interest in materials, equipment and various aspects of construction that were highly sustainable and cutting-edge. When you walk in, you don’t quite realize it, but those layers of simplicity and sustainability affect the warmth and good-feeling ambiance of the space. There’s a feeling in there that has to do with respect.
We’re eagerly anticipating the new summer menu. What can you divulge?
Each season I sit down and create an inspiration, a list of words and concepts I want that menu to represent. Our spring menu was very subtle, feminine, bright and grassy. The summer inspiration list includes words like, "salt, sand, sex," and "tequila, marshmallows, thunder claps." The menu is all about the sea, romance and heat—bold and distinct flavors, with a bit of nostalgia for what summer means, whether you’re on the New Jersey shoreline, the beaches of Baja or the Mediterranean coast.
We have an incredible palate of things to work with, and some of them are a little unusual—heirloom foods that aren’t as obvious in our daily diet. You’ll definitely see authentic, handmade pastas (possibly a puttanesca), a lot more seafood (razor clam, Spanish octopus), and many beautiful micro and heirloom greens.
To name just a fraction of the ingredients currently on the list: tamarind, corn, swordfish, scallops, cucumber, nectarines, green rhubarb, dandelion greens, German white tomatoes, deer tongue, fairy tale eggplant…
Fox is also on the cusp of releasing her first full-length cookbook, a collection of recipes that carries her readers from her mother’s kitchen to the hills of Tuscany, as well as into the hearth of The Bindery’s ovens.