As Executive Chef of Urban Farmer in Denver, Chris Starkus curates a locally focused, sustainably sourced steakhouse menu influenced by the bounty of Colorado. Starkus highlights his seasonally-driven menu with nose-to-tail cuts of naturally-raised meat, executed with finely honed French techniques. Overseeing the whole animal butchery in-house, charcuterie program, and more, he also enjoys tending to the restaurant’s rooftop apiary and state-of-the-art Urban Cultivators featuring homegrown mushrooms, microgreens, and sprouted grains. Inspired by America’s European ancestry, Starkus unites ingredients grown on-site with those harvested from closely regarded purveyors to offer rustic brunch, lunch, and dinner preparations with bold, straightforward flavors.
Like his culinary style, the chef’s approach to management favors authenticity and transparency. In any interaction with people, guest or employee, Starkus emulates the golden rule, operating with mutual respect to create satisfying and engaging experiences. “The guest comes first, always,” he says. “Thanks to them, I get to do what I love most.”
That love for cuisine developed during his upbringing in Santa Clarita, CA, thanks to the influence of his great grandmother, Mini, and grandmother, Mary. The matriarchs’ from-scratch family meals—a tradition of their Italian heritage— showcased the seasonality of California’s local farm stands, solidifying the importance of mindful sourcing in Starkus’s developing culinary mind. The aspiring chef took his first job at a local restaurant when he was 15, cycling through every station from dishwasher to host to prep cook and expediter. During a visit to his grandmother in Las Vegas, he toured a culinary school and enrolled on the spot, relocating to Sin City after graduating high school.
After completing his culinary studies in 2001, Starkus found work at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois, and a year later, he made his way onto the opening team of Puck’s Postrio Las Vegas, first as tournant and later as assistant pastry chef, a yearlong apprenticeship position.
Craving more experience, Starkus looked to Renoir in The Mirage and took an apprenticeship under Chef Alexandro Stratta. When Stratta opened his eponymous restaurant, ALEX, at the Wynn Las Vegas, Starkus followed, elevating his culinary devotions, taking on additional operational roles, and mastering whole-animal butchery. With Starkus on the team, ALEX earned numerous accolades including an AAA Five Diamond rating and two Michelin stars. In the wake of ALEX’s success, Starkus’ mentor opened STRATTA, which Starkus helped design and lead as assistant executive chef. During the same time, he studied for and earned his Level One certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Armed with high-stakes culinary experience, Starkus relocated to Portland, OR in 2009 to work as a private chef. The position allowed him time to study organic gardening at Oregon Tilth, and then use his horticulture expertise to plant gardens for himself and his clients while tuning in to the natural offerings of the Pacific Northwest. In 2011, eager to rejoin the energetic restaurant environment, Starkus returned to Sin City and joined Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood as chef de cuisine, amplifying his devotion to sourcing seafood, meat, and other ingredients from responsible sources.
The sustainably minded chef returned to Portland in 2013 to join the flagship Urban Farmer restaurant, pulling together his devotion to authentic ingredients and his acutely honed culinary techniques to turn exquisitely grown food into creative yet straightforward cuisine bursting with the natural flavors of the Pacific Northwest. His experience and dedication to the brand made him an obvious choice for the opening Executive Chef at Urban Farmer’s fourth location in Denver. Since joining the Sage Restaurant Group team, Starkus has competed on Food Network’s Chopped, and has even studied beekeeping at Oregon State University, contributing to his work on the restaurant’s rooftop apiary.
When he is not creating garden-fresh steakhouse fare at Urban Farmer, Starkus retreats to his homestead where he tends to plants, bees, and chickens. He also enjoys kayaking and cycling, often with his wife and their two kids. Follow his chef life on social media @chrisstarkus