Mesa Verde National Park chef recognized

Brian Puett pleases Mesa Verde National Park visitors with fine Southwestern dining and other cuisine

Chef Brian Puett, the executive chef at Mesa Verde National park recently won the culinary excellence award from the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

Chef Brian Puett, the executive chef at Mesa Verde National park recently won the culinary excellence award from the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association.

s a youth watching Cajun Chef Justin Wilson on television, Brian Puett never imagined he would become a chef well on his way to celebrity status.

Just nine years after graduating chef school, Puett is already an executive chef at Mesa Verde National Park and gaining international attention, having recently been awarded a Culinary Excellence Award from the International Food, Wine & Travel Writer’s Association.

Puett was nominated for his innovative techniques, combination of ingredients, flavor profile, texture and presentation.

In addition, Puett has cooked for Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, comedian Michael Richards, actor Cuba Gooding Jr. and New York Giants owner Steve Tisch.

Having worked for the same company at Lake Powell, Puett transferred to Mesa Verde, where he took on responsibility for overseeing the operation of kitchens, including the park’s flagship dining establishment, the Metate Room.

“I talk to guests, which is fun because there’s a lot of international travelers,” he said. “We get almost all positive feedback. Everyone seems to love it.”

Puett immediately redesigned the menu, adding some new twists to traditional Southwestern cuisine. He strives to use regional ingredients, such as chilies, squash, beans, herbs, fruit and game.

One of Puett’s favorite dishes is the battered poblano chili relleno pepper, which is stuffed with Mexican cheeses, roasted corn, house seasonings and Dove Creek black beans served over red chili polenta with a caramelized onion/tomato ragout and topped with a cilantro lime cream.

In addition, Puett’s menu also includes some spiced-up comfort dishes, such as elk shepherd’s pie and white chili-cheese fries.

“I wrote the whole menu, so there’s nothing on there that I don’t really enjoy eating,” he said.

Even before graduating from the Culinary Arts Program at the Art Institute, Puett had a career cooking and serving food.

“I’ve always loved cooking. I was in food and beverage, front and back of the house, for years before I started school,” he said.

Although many travelers visit the restaurant, Puett encourages locals to make the roughly 45-minute drive for a gourmet dining experience.

In addition to the Metate Room, Puett oversees food production for the Far View Terrace, Spruce Tree Terrace and Knife’s Edge cafés.

“It’s a lot of running around, and I spend most my day just looking and checking quality,” he said. “It’s a big part of my job during the summer. But yeah, I like to spend a good part of my time here (at the Metate Room). This is the one we brag about.”

Reach Reid Wright at reidw@cortezjournal.com.