Staff Meal: What Kelly Whitaker Eats at Basta

By Ruth Tobias  |  December 13, 2013

The name translates as “enough,” but that word isn’t really in Boulder chef Kelly Whitaker’s lexicon. Sure, Basta was built on a perfectly straightforward concept: farmhouse Italian cuisine, including pizzas, prepared in a centerpiece wood-burning oven. When it comes to execution, however, pushing boundaries is the name of the game. As Whitaker explains, “This has always been a lab for experimentation, based on the fact that we don’t have a full working kitchen. We pretty much rely on two techniques: wood-fired cooking and sous vide in precision-based immersion circulators. When you face a lot of problems, it forces a lot of creativity.”

At the same time, he adds, “Everybody’s doing stuff like that right now.” So on the eve of Basta’s fourth anniversary, he and his crew have released a menu that represents a subtle departure from past editions, with a heavier emphasis on starters beyond the staple salumi and cheeses. “This is about us getting out of our comfort zone and taking a stretch that’s still rooted in Southern Italian tradition,”  he says. “All the dishes on the new menu have intention behind them; they have stories behind them.” When we asked him to pick his favorite, he couldn’t resist choosing three. In his own words:

About a month ago, I took some of my cooks out to Los Angeles, including my sous chef, Josh Legrand. I picked him fresh out of culinary school, and he’s been with us for two years. It was time to hand him some of the keys. But first I wanted him to cook with Michael Cimarusti of Providence. He didn’t just go out there to stage - he really saw what it’s like to shop and place orders and work every position... Meanwhile, we went to all these underground small-plates places around the city, and though small plates are nothing new, we got inspired to add more items for people to share that are less than $10.

One of my favorites is the wood-roasted littlenecks from Cape Cod. Their shells are so thick they can take 1,000 degrees without chipping. We add lemongrass and this awesome chile oil that we make, so as the clams open up, you get this great broth that we serve with toast.

Another is one of the more tech-y, cool things we’ve done: I use a Japanese technique to dehydrate salmon skin until it gets all crazy and puffs like chicharrón - only it’s baked, not fried, so it’s really good for you. We make an Arctic char pâté with butter, cream and bay leaf and serve that with the fish chicharrones and a purée of black garlic that we sous vide with lemon and vinegar.

Also, I’m always looking for uses for our leftover prosciutto and salami scraps, and with the passing of Marcella Hazan - who influenced so many chefs - I decided to do an homage to her cannelloni. We make a really good, no-blanch semolina pasta that we bake in the oven so it gets this perfect texture; then we fill it with the scraps and ricotta and serve it with béchamel. Classic - just like Hazan!

3601 Arapahoe Ave. #D-155, Boulder; 303-997-8775