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Merlin Verrier on Cooking for Obama, Community and the Kitchen's Next Door Concept

Merlin Verrier on Cooking for Obama, Community and the Kitchen's Next Door Concept

Since the Kitchen opened its first Next Door location in 2011, the concept has evolved into what the company calls urban-casual restaurants, specializing in wholesome and sustainably sourced food at accessible price points, delivered fast. For the past two years, guiding the growing group of eateries to its current state — and priming it for expansion (in addition to a Stapleton outlet, which just opened, the company will open a location in Longmont and has plans to take Next Door beyond Colorado’s borders) — has been the job of culinary whiz Merlin Verrier. Below, Verrier talks about how and why he made the transition from Michelin-starred dining to fast-casual food, detailing a produce-filled California childhood, struggles with addiction, and cooking for President Barack Obama along the way.

Merlin Verrier: I grew up on the central coast of California, in Santa Cruz. It was a really rich produce region; we went to farmers’ markets as kids. Santa Cruz is twenty miles from the artichoke capital of the United States and fifty miles from Gilroy, the garlic capital. That exposed me to a lot of ingredients most kids don’t get to see. In the springtime, we ate Dungeness crabs and artichokes because they were cheap and great. It wasn’t until later that I thought, holy crap, that is really special stuff.