Tom Ross: Can’t take the heat? |

Tom Ross: Can’t take the heat?

Tom Ross

— How often do you dine out and actually lay eyes on the person who prepared your meal?

There are plenty of restaurants these days with open kitchens. But most often, the men and women who feed Steamboat's holiday crowds are out of sight and anonymous.

It was while reporting on the difficulty of hiring line cooks for the new restaurant at Yampa Valley Regional Airport that I paused to reflect on the cooks I used to work with in another lifetime as a food server.

I once worked with a gastronomic genius by the last name of Cook who trained at a culinary institute. Naturally, we called him Chef Cook.

There was the highly strung cook in a steak and prime rib house who looked out for my best interests as long as I brought him a Heineken and a few bucks at the end of my shift. It was a wise investment.

I also worked with a cook who served fabulous shift meals to the wait staff but didn't hesitate to throw things at us when we irritated him.

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I had a chance to sit down with Tracy Barnett, of Mainstreet Steamboat, on Friday and gab for a few minutes about the restaurant business. She and husband, Cooper, formerly owned and operated Mazzola's Majestic Italian Diner here in Steamboat.

"Cooks are a different breed," Barnett said. "They're predominantly guys, and they aren't always family guys. They might be here just for the winter and couch surfing."

Cooks have to be highly organized and able to time all the different dishes in a given order to survive, Barnett said.

She told me that among entrée cooks, pizza cooks and prep cooks, she and Cooper might have employed 20 cooks at any time, adding up to about 12 full-time equivalents.

She once counted more than 100 places to dine out in Steamboat, taking into account grocery stores and convenience stores. Barnett said there are 43 bona fide restaurants in downtown Steamboat alone.

Assume there are 75 actual restaurants in Steamboat and assume each averages the equivalent of eight cooks. That would compute to 600 cooks and chefs living and working in this little old ski town. And we could be underestimating the total.

Order up!

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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