Aspen Grille opens Tuesday with ‘green’ certification, new chef

Story by Kristin Breakell

Colorado State University’s Aspen Grille, which reopens for the semester on Sept. 13, has added new talent to its staff and continues to build upon its success as a student-run restaurant: It has became a Level 1 Certified Green Restaurant — again — after being certified by the Green Restaurant Association this August.

As the hands-on teaching lab for the Hospitality Management Program at CSU, the on-campus restaurant was the first student-run restaurant in the nation to receive this certification more than a decade ago when the Aspen Grille was first launched. Now the restaurant is renewing the certification, and is one of only four restaurants in Colorado that has done so.

Ken Symsack, left, and Josh Olson
Ken Symsack, left, and Josh Olson

The Aspen Grille was evaluated in seven different categories and scored exceptionally in each one.

Josh Olson, restaurant operations instructor at the Aspen Grille, felt it was necessary to put in the extra work needed to become certified.

“This certificate is especially important to a school like CSU,” Olson said. “There is an emphasis on sustainability and being ‘green’ here. People care about it. That’s why we wanted to go the extra mile.”

Refreshing the menu

Although the Aspen Grille has already taken significant steps toward becoming green, the restaurant strives to become even more sustainable. The Aspen Grille plans to build a menu that incorporates more locally sourced food as well as more vegetarian and vegan options. These changes will help the Aspen Grille build upon its past success and take the restaurant to the next level.

The Aspen Grille recently hired Ken Symsack (’11), a new chef, who is a graduate of CSU’s Hospitality Management Program. Symsack is excited about the Green Restaurant distinction and plans to initiate several menu changes.

From washing dishes in the third grade, to working in some of the most prestigious kitchens in the state, Symsack is bringing a considerable amount of experience to the restaurant. Olson and Symsack serve as instructors for the HM students in the Aspen Grille class, where the goal is for them to learn all aspects of restaurant operations.

After receiving a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Symsack came to CSU to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the food industry. At CSU, Symsack learned from Jeffrey Miller, associate professor and program coordinator of Hospitality Management. Symsack describes Miller as a mentor who played an integral role in his success in the hospitality industry.

‘Energized about food’

After graduating, Symsack stayed involved at CSU with the Aspen Grille before returning as chef.

“I just love imparting knowledge. I’ve always enjoyed getting people energized about food, so doing it as a profession is awesome,” Symsack said. “Many chefs are already set in their ways. Teaching students while they are open-minded and have a fresh outlook is very fulfilling.”

Symsack plans to freshen up the menu while at the Aspen Grille and hopes to have a completely new menu by the spring semester. He has already added a couple of new items to the menu, including the Quinoa Beet Salad, a personal favorite of his. The salad is almost entirely made with local ingredients and uses every part of the beet vegetable. It will be served along with other delicious menu items when the Aspen Grille opens on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

The Aspen Grille is open Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m.-1 p.m. through the end of the regular semester. It is located on the second floor of the Lory Student Center, inside the University Club. Walk-ins are welcome, and reservations can be made at through the online reservation system.

The Hospitality Management Program is in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

CSU University Communications Staff