Kelly Liken, one of Colorado’s most promising and influential young chefs, was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother was an outstanding cook, constantly exploring new recipes and seeking out fresh products at the local farmers market, which led Kelly to develop her love for cooking in high school. At 18, she landed a job preparing salads at an upscale seafood restaurant. “From the moment I stepped foot into a professional kitchen, I knew it was where I wanted to be…it was like an epiphany,” Kelly recalls.
Studying physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder was just a detour for Kelly, who cooked at night not only to pay the bills but also to feed her true passion. Kelly could not suppress her growing enthusiasm for the world of fine cuisine and enrolled at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where she graduated first in her class in 2002. She interned at the renowned Inn at Little Washington, outside of Washington, D.C., where Chef Patrick O’Connell introduced her to the techniques of refined American cuisine. After graduation, Kelly headed west to work at Splendido at the Château in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Her year-and-a-half tenure at the restaurant was significant, not only from a culinary perspective, but also because it was where she met her future husband, Rick Colomitz, who was working the front of the house.
A promising culinary star, Kelly passed on offers from heavyweight establishments like Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and New York City’s Restaurant Daniel to stay in Colorado, where she felt more grounded. Then at the youthful age of 27, she felt it was time to open her own restaurant. “I was cooking great food at Splendido, but it was somebody else’s recipes,” she explains. In 2004, she took over a dilapidated Chinese eatery at the entrance to Vail Village and transformed it into Restaurant Kelly Liken, one of the state’s most sophisticated dining destinations, where the restaurant’s cosmopolitan décor and progressive American cuisine are reflections of the owner/chef’s personality. Later that year, she and Rick Colomitz were married. Rick now serves as General Manager and Wine Director at Restaurant Kelly Liken.
Kelly is passionate about her adopted home state. Her menu reflects the incredible bounty of Colorado and a reverence for the seasons. She explains, “Colorado has an amazing selection of ingredients you can’t get at the local farmer’s market including Bison, Elk, wild porcini mushrooms grown on the local hillsides, or turnips and potatoes grown at 8,300 feet above sea level, that are truly divine.” To accommodate her heartfelt market-driven philosophy, Kelly nurtures close relationships with small family farmers, ranchers and artisanal food producers. “If I can’t find an ingredient or product from Colorado, I won’t buy it from someplace else,” she says, forcing her to change her menu frequently as various products come into, and go out of, season. Her loyal clientele relishes this approach, which ensures consistent freshness and endless variety.
James Beard nominee for Best Chef Southwest (2009, 2010 and 2011), Kelly has garnered national recognition for her creativity in the kitchen as well as her commitment and passion for her craft. She has been featured in Bon Appétit, 2008 “Women Chefs: The Next Generation,” as one of the emerging female chefs to watch in the country and has appeared on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, as well as a contestant on Bravo’s Season 7 of Top Chef D.C. In her spare time, the passionate 35-year-old chef enjoys Colorado’s magnificent Rocky Mountain environment, whether mountain biking through rugged terrain with her husband or testing recipes in the new outdoor home kitchen she designed. Kelly and Rick generously support local charities dedicated to improving the quality of education in Colorado. Kelly is currently working in partnership with the Vail Valley Foundation and Brush Creek Elementary school to spearhead an edible schoolyard garden and project entitled “Sowing Seeds.”