Duy Pham is not the Denver chef he was two decades ago. When first making a name for himself in his early 20s at restaurants such as Normandy and Tante Louise — both long since shuttered — the Vietnamese chef might have been spotted toying with an early sous-vide technique, or finishing his French dishes with a surprise new ingredient: foam on top.
Much has changed in the world of fine dining — and in Denver — since then. For one, the cooking trends of nouvelle and molecular gastronomy are, well, no longer trendy. And two decades later, Lower Downtown, or LoDo, has catapulted to the forefront of the city’s dining-out culture.
Against that backdrop, and after more recent stints at Epernay, which is closed, and Parker Garage, still running, Pham returns now to central Denver as the executive chef of the new For[a]ged restaurant at the food hall, hotel, retail center and bar-studded alley that is Dairy Block.
This new restaurant is hidden toward the back of the complex, facing Blake Street, where it feels like a curious combination of sports bar and sleek dinner destination amid the surrounding offerings.
The food, too, is a mix of some steakhouse standbys, like a salmon filet ($29) or New York strip ($40) and sushi. The name For[a]ged combines two slightly overplayed trends — foraging for ingredients and mixing ch@racters and letters in a restaurant name — with one refreshing new aspect.
Since this side of Denver last experienced Pham’s cooking, he has gone on to become a Journeyman bladesmith, meaning he forges his own knives and even sells them to well-known chefs around the country.
Of one recent customer, French chef Daniel Boulud, Pham joked: “He doesn’t know me as a chef, he knows me as a knife-maker,. And actually, I’m not a really good knife-maker; I’m a better chef!”
But Pham is just being modest. Behind the upstairs raw bar at For[a]ged, a glass case displays dozens of Pham’s knives, each with a thousand intricacies, from the curve of the handles to the angle of the blade beveling.
The practice of forging, which Pham said brought him back from near-retirement, has also reinvigorated his cooking, which still draws on French techniques — and twists thereof — but adds fresh, raw fish, expertly filleted and laid over perfect rice beds.
Pham has one other secret ingredient, too, for this Denver comeback: his 20-year-old son, Brenan. The younger Pham’s knife skills are “ungodly,” according to his father; the apprentice will be starting out six days a week working behind For[a]ged’s raw bar.
So if they don’t get too mired cooking in the past together, the Phams could show Denver diners the polishing of one culinary generation alongside the sharpening of another.
1825 Blake St., 720-826-2147, 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, foragedrestaurant.com
Subscribe to our new food newsletter, Stuffed, to get Denver food and drink news sent straight to your inbox.