Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kelly Whitaker grew up spending summers on his grandfather’s vegetable farm—only he refused to eat them. Later, during his time at Colorado State University studying hospitality management, Whitaker got his introduction to the culinary industry in the dish pit. He made the most of his position by learning bread baking and pasta making from the cooks. Whitaker’s degree program took him to Switzerland and Italy for stages, and upon graduation, he took a job in restaurant consultation. But he was drawn back to the kitchen and to Italy, where he worked in fine dining in Naples and staged at various other restaurants on his days off.
It wasn’t long before his then-girlfriend—now wife and business partner, Erika—brought him to Los Angeles, where he worked in the kitchens at Spago and Hatfield’s. But it was while staging at Manresa that a bite of a single biodynamic carrot changed his life forever. A few consulting gigs and a stint at two-Michelin-starred Providence later, Whitaker and his family moved back to Colorado with a dream of opening a restaurant devoted to organic and domestic ingredients (no small thanks to that carrot).
In 2010, in partnership with Id Est Hospitality Group, Whitaker’s wood-fire focused Basta opened its doors. Since then, he’s been named Eater’s Chef of the Year twice, and “Heart of the Collaborative” by Chefs Collaborative. He has also founded Noble Grain Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting domestic milled-to-order grains.