Colorado Restaurant Association serves Chef of the Year award to Steamboat local

Chef Nick Winden sits inside The Laundry Kitchen and Cocktails on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. Winden was one of four chefs across the state to earn the honor of Chef of the Year.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs chef Nick Winden has been named Chef of the Year by the Colorado Restaurant Association as part of the 2023 Industry Spotlight Awards, which will be handed out this November in Denver.

“We are a family, we’re tight and this honor is about everyone who is here — it is not about me,” Winden said of The Laundry Kitchen and Cocktails, where he has worked the past eight years. “With the amount of hard work, and the amount of cool stuff this restaurant is doing and what we put into the back of the house, this just feels like a nice pat on the back for everybody.”

Winden’s passion for cooking began in his family’s kitchen. It followed him to the jobs he held in high school at Taco Bell and the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant in Fort Colins, and then to Colorado Mesa University, where he earned his culinary degree 2010.

“When I look back on it, I feel like I was destined to be a chef my whole life,” Winden said. “My mom always bought me stuff to cook with, so I had a crème brûlée kit when I was in first grade.”

After earning his culinary degree, Winden went on to get a business degree at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where he also worked in several restaurants — including the Canyon Chop House.

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“It was this really great place,” Winden said. “It was kind of a mom-and-pop steakhouse, and the food we put out was unbelievable. I learned so much from that.”

After the Canyon Chop House closed, Winden moved to Steamboat Springs, where he took a job at Bistro c.v. However, he was no stranger to the area, and was inspired by what The Laundry was doing during his ski trips to Steamboat.

“This was probably my favorite restaurant at the time,” Winden said. “We would come up here and ski, and I love this building — the old feel of it, the shared plates and the vibe of just food coming out and eating as much as possible with a bunch of people. I just love the feeling of this restaurant.”

It inspired him to submit his résumé to the restaurant’s owner, who offered Winden a chance to interview. He earned a position on the staff and got the shot to work a few shifts a week.

“My plan was to just work a little bit and ski a lot,” Winden said. “I was perfectly happy being a broke ski bum. One month into trying to do that, I realized that it just wasn’t going work out at all because I just love being in the kitchen. It’s hard for me not to be here a lot. I guess it’s just my plate.”

Steamboat Springs has become Winden’s home these days. He met and married his wife, Reid, and together the two welcomed son Vincent to the world eight months ago. He said he is very happy at The Laundry, where he enjoys working with a talented staff.

Winden was one of four chefs from Colorado to earn the honor from the Colorado Restaurant Association, which will present the Industry Spotlight Awards on Nov. 8 at the at the Chambers Grand Salon inside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Awards that will be presented include the Back of the House Employee of the Year, Chef of the Year, Front of House Employee of the Year, Bartender of the Year and Manager of the Year.

“Winning the Chef of the Year award is an amazing accomplishment, and we are delighted to honor Nick in this way,” said Denise Mickelson, communications director for the Colorado Restaurant Association. “His contribution to Laundry Kitchen and Cocktails has been just extraordinary, and his nomination was glowing.”

Mickelson said this is the biggest awards ceremony of the year for the Colorado Restaurant Association.

“We look forward to it every year as a way to cap off the year for the industry before the holidays kick into gear,” Mickelson said. “What is so wonderful about it is that it celebrates talent, and these outsize contributions to our industry from top to bottom — from dishwashers to managers, from chefs to back of house teams — so we really get to shine a light on every type of amazing individual that works in this industry and makes it great.”

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