Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020 issue.
Chef + Owner of Bin 707 Foodbar, Tacoparty and Dinnerparty
Josh Niernberg is a fourth generation Coloradan living with his wife, two sons and their dog in Grand Junction, Colorado. As a chef and restauranteur, Niernberg says his focus is on exploring Colorado cuisine through the use of local and regional ingredients and techniques. Here’s more on Niernberg and how “love your planet” is consistently integrated into his life and work:
HOW DOES YOUR WORK AS A CHEF, RESTAURANT OWNER AND ENTREPRENEUR GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO “LOVE YOUR PLANET?”
We created Bin 707 Foodbar in 2010 with the intention of showcasing local and regionally sourced ingredients. We saw the opportunity to tighten the distribution channels, lower the carbon emissions and support sustainable agriculture here in Colorado’s Grand Valley for the benefit of all of us in the community. I believe the ingredients which grow here allow us the opportunity to make food that is unique to here. Promoting and perpetuating that model creates a far more sustainable food system than glamorizing imported and rare products as has been the norm for so long.
HOW DOES THE EARTH PROVIDE INSPIRATION AND/OR MOTIVATION FOR YOU IN YOUR ENDEAVORS?
The better the ingredients we have to work with, the better our food tastes. The more we take care of the soil, the better the ingredients. The healthier the soil, the less chemical intervention is required for the crop. Finally, the less chemical intervention required for the crop, the more efficient a crop can grow — ultimately requiring less water. This is true in all agriculture; vegetables, grapes for wine, grain for distilling, brewing and culinary uses, cannabis, etc. This premise has motivated us to work towards implementing restaurant composting on a scale large enough to help support the farms we work with. Mesa County doesn’t currently have a community supported composting program set up at a scale large enough for restaurant partners — we hope to help find some solutions for this in the coming year.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLANTS OR PLANT-BASED INGREDIENTS TO COOK WITH AND WHY?
I like to showcase lesser known and unique ingredients available to us here in the western slope. Elephant heart plums are my favorite, blue corn from Durango to make nixtamal for our tortillas at Tacoparty, Longhorn Sumac and all of the incredible flowers we get to play with from Sweet Pea’s Garden and Sage Creations in Palisade, all of the incredible peppers that grow so well here, green chiles which then can be dried to make locally grown pasilla, ancho and guajillos; (not period) using vinus vineferia (wine grapes) to make verjus and in place of citrus, apple cider vinegar from Hotchkiss apples to make fruit gastriques, which we also use on our menus in place of citrus.
If we had a flavor profile in western Colorado, I would like to imagine it’s sage, juniper and guajillo.
WHAT DO YOU APPRECIATE RIGHT NOW IN THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY AND WHAT FRUSTRATES YOU THE MOST?
I appreciate an emphasis to procure better quality products from more sustainable sources. I appreciate technology enabling chefs to stay more dynamic and informed than ever before to not only allow us to work with better ingredients, but to allow us to work together in sourcing and distributing ingredients from lesser known and rural regions. Ultimately that creates better product, better value and lower carbon emissions.
I’m frustrated by the challenges faced daily as a restaurant operator in western Colorado, like fighting for relevance in a community that traditionally hasn’t supported culinary artistry while competing with chains on pricing. Paying and providing above state average wages and implementing policy that prevents our staff from working traditional long restaurant hours in a community with a 20 percent lower than state average household income — and doing so in an economy that exports 99 percent of our hospitality workforce to the Front Range, all while watching our prime cost rise annually.
Trying to do what is best for our local economy and environment becomes a greater challenge daily. It is a labor of love, a mission to provide a sense of place and create something special and unique to western Colorado, because ultimately, the proximity to incredible ingredients, the quality of life and access to outdoor recreation is greater here than anywhere else I’m familiar with!
WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU AND YOUR WORK?
To continue to focus on community supported composting programs on a commercial level; to potentially partner with the cannabis industry to help create some closed loop cycles of using restart compost to increase soil biodiversity for hemp farms; encourage hemp farms to use cover crops such as rye which can be harvested and used for culinary and distilling purposes here in the Grand Valley. This is kind of a modified www.zerofoodprint.com program which I’m focused on. We also have another concept or two in the works which I’m excited to launch when the time is right! Hopefully within the next 12 to 24 months.
Photos by Cat Mayer.