The Bindery Chef/Owner Linda Hampsten Fox on being a “female” chef, cooking for celebs and the benefits of being a tomboy.
Boundary-pushing Chef Linda Hampsten Fox made a big impact on the Denver dining scene with the opening of her bright, spacious LoHi restaurant The Bindery in late 2017. But even though her name is relatively new to us diners, Colorado isn’t new to her. Linda attended the University of Colorado at Boulder and always knew she’d return—she just needed to cook her way around the world first. Now, with the release of her first cookbook, we talked with Linda about being a female in a traditionally male field and her unconventional, refined menus.
Cherry Creek Lifestyle: Do you get asked about being a “female” chef a lot?
Linda Hampsten Fox: Often enough. It’s great to see that support for women in business, especially a historically male-dominated business. However, I also feel very strongly that no matter what profession you have, you need to be recognized on merit. A great female doctor wants to be recognized as a great doctor, not a female doctor.
CCL: Can you believe female chefs and restaurant owners are still the exception in 2019?
LHF: Unfortunately, yes. I always played sports with the guys, but a lot of women haven’t. I was a tomboy growing up and so it was natural for me to throw myself into things that boys were doing. I was never intimidated. It feels like we have an equal playing field and equal opportunities, although we are just at the tip of the iceberg. What’s really exciting right now is we have a generation of young women, like my daughter Emma, that feel it’s natural to do anything you want in a career.
CCL: Your reputation is very much as a perfectionist. How does that help (or hurt) you on the entrepreneurial side of owning a restaurant?
LHF: I approach everything I do with a desire for it to be done well and right. I constantly do battle with some of my kitchen staff about this. If it isn’t perfect, don’t serve it. If I see food come to the expo that has a missing ingredient or that is slightly overcooked, I send it back. Having staff that holds that same standard isn’t something that happens overnight. Establishing a standard and values for our business that align with my own can make it hard to sleep at night. I am constantly pushing myself to be better, but also my team.
CCL: You’ve worked as a personal chef for some pretty fascinating people. Were you ever starstruck?
LHF: I was a little starstruck when I cooked for Amos Lee, but within five minutes we were hugging and talking about Philadelphia and music and food and philanthropy. When I met Huey Lewis, he immediately said that he loved my shoes, so that was an ice breaker. I think I will always be a bit starstruck with Jane Goodall. She is such a lovely, soft-spoken yet strong woman and so humble. The day I drove up to Courteney Cox’s home in Malibu to help cook at a fundraiser for Jane, I was a little nervous, but Courteney brought me and her house chef some of her famous hard-boiled eggs. After that, it was just amazing to be there.
CCL: How does your food express your personal experience and story?
LHF: How can it not? I think cooking is a deeply personal reflection of someone’s entire life. It starts as a child and then continues through every stage of growth, every decision that led me to a new place or new ingredients. Diners recognize that with chef-owned restaurants. They want to understand who you are and what has led you to what you are doing. I learned traditional cooking from my family, from my time living in Switzerland, my years living in Tuscany, my time working in Mexico, so my cooking is rooted in tradition. However, the creativity I put into every dish is reflective of greater life experiences.
CCL: You sometimes use uncommon ingredients, but cooked in an approachable way—what’s been diners’ reaction to seeing, say, geoduck on the menu?
LHF: I love the lesser used cuts of proteins, but I think that is more and more common to see in restaurants. They are delicious and fun to work with. Personally, I have done some crazy menus over the years where rattlesnake and crickets were served, but my father grew up eating rabbits and pigeons and took my mom gigging for frogs on dates before they were married, so my menus seem a bit tame in my opinion. I am extremely pleased with the reception of the menu. I often hear from our guests that they chose the restaurant because of the menu, so overall I think we are doing a good job of making guests feel that the food is approachable, rooted in tradition but most importantly, delicious.
1817 Central St.