The Roost head chef Dave Cuntz shows the rest of the state that Durango is a place for food, taking home the Colorado Restaurant Association’s Stars of the Industry Chef of the Year Award.
“I feel very privileged to receive this award,” he said “It helps me prove to myself that what I put into my work shows through. Everyone loves a little acknowledgment, but this one is a big one.”
Cuntz said the CRA awards often go to chefs in Denver because of the sheer volume of restaurants in the city. He said he’s glad he was able to show the rest of the state that Durango can be a food destination, too.
“I think Durango stands out because of the food mecca that it is,” he said. “Even with the fallout from the pandemic, there's a lot of resilience in the restaurants here.”
Cuntz was nominated for the award by Roost co-owner Michele Redding.
Nominees are reviewed by the CRA’s awards committee. To win the Chef of the Year Award, Cuntz beat out five other chefs.
“We go through all the nominations. We read them all and decide who sounds the most worthy,” said CRA communications director Denise Mickelsen. “Dave was definitely the most worthy. It was a unanimous decision by our committee.”
Mickelsen said CRA’s Stars of the Industry awards are completely peer-driven, and the only awards ceremony in the state that honors restaurant workers at all levels of the industry.
“Durango was very well-represented this year, and we were thrilled to see it,” Mickelsen said. “Durango has an incredibly vibrant and dynamic restaurant scene.”
Around Durango, Cuntz may be known to residents for his time spent as head chef at the Strater Hotel, Carver Brewing Co. and now The Roost.
Cuntz said that being in a restaurant like The Roost that only serves dinner has allowed him to be more hands on with his dishes.
“I get to play around with the food, I get to be more meticulous about it,” he said.
Each week, Cuntz tries to come up with a new dish he’s never made before to serve as a special on Fridays and Saturdays. Sometimes, his culinary creations are so good, and sell well enough, that they make it on to the menu permanently. One dish that made it on was Cuntz’s pistachio-crusted mahi mahi served with a curried garlic aioli, on top of a vegetable rice.
In 2015, Cuntz appeared on the Food Network show “Guy’s Grocery Games,” and won.
He has been working in kitchens since he was 13. He started by helping out the lunch staff while in school so he could get out of class early.
Originally from Centennial, Cuntz first moved to Durango in the 1980s to attend Fort Lewis College. After earning a fine arts degree at FLC, he worked at a number of restaurants around Durango.
Cuntz spent about 15 years working in the restaurant industry before he decided to go to culinary school at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.
After culinary school, he moved to Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, and worked at a couple restaurants.
In 2004, he was on vacation in Durango and happened to get into a conversation with the general manager of the Strater Hotel. Cuntz said after a two-week trial period working as the head chef at the Strater, he decided he was moving his family back to Durango.
Cuntz spent eight years working at the Strater, and then moved to Carver’s for seven years.
When the pandemic hit, he said he was in the process of finding his next venture as a chef, when he received a call from the new owners of The Roost.
“I came in at first as a consultant, so to speak, and we sat down and talked about their vision,” Cuntz said. “Next thing you know, I'm thinking I start my downward slope to retirement here.”