Rebel Restaurant – Chefs Dan Lasiy & Bo Porytko

It is a well-known fact that we love Rebel.  It is absolutely one of our favorite places to eat in Denver.  As you can imagine when Dan and Bo, the creators and owners, agreed to sit down with us one Saturday morning we were thrilled.

Rebel is located just north of downtown Denver in the River North Art District (RiNo), on the corner of 37th and Wynkoop, in what used to be a biker bar.  They turn out sophisticated eclectic small plates that change on a regular basis. They never cease to amaze us with their creativity and fresh ingredients.

Let’s start with where you’re from and what brought you to Denver?
Dan: We’re from Whippany, NJ, a half hour West New York City.  I was living in New York and needed a change of lifestyle.  I left while I was working in the TV and movie industry, it was turning me into someone I did not want to be.  The crowning moment was when I almost got into a fist fight with someone on the streets of Manhattan over garbage.  It was ridiculous.  I realized it was not a lifestyle I wanted to continue leading.  Denver had always been on my radar.  I love to snowboard and be outdoors; it is somewhere I’ve always wanted to live.

How did you and Bo create this partnership?
I’ve known Bo since Pre-K.  We’re both second-generation Ukrainian. Our parents are friends and I guess you can say the rest is history.  

You created a Kickstarter campaign with a lot of success.  Tell us about that.
This was not the initial concept.  The initial concept was a little kitchen inside of Black Shirt Brewing.  In the short time we accomplished our Kickstarter goal, Black Shirt grew so much they didn’t have the space for us. We had the money that people had given us, so what do we do? We decided to keep going.  It took a year and a half to find a space, and to figure out how to make it all fit together.

You believe in creating innovative food with a nostalgic undertone.  How was this concept born?
This is a self-fulfilling restaurant,  my way of getting people to eat things they normally wouldn’t is to use nostalgia.  People will remember the feeling of their experience more than the taste of a dish. We take something that is familiar and tweak it.  We collaborate a lot on the menu.

Rebel’s philosophy is “Come in a stranger and walk out a friend”. You make yourselves so available to your diners.  Was that a priority when creating Rebel?
We want people to walk in and be greeted with a warm reception and feel welcome.  We love to engage with our customers.  I like when kids are excited about our food.  The reason we call ourselves Rebel is because we want to do everything different from the typical eating experience we’ve been a part of. We try to do a very casual atmosphere with high concept food.  That can confuse a lot of people.  This place used to be the diviest of biker bars in Denver, and we were like, “perfect”.  We’ve created a menu with uni, jambalaya pierogis, salt and pepper lobster tail and serve it in an old dive bar.  We love that juxtaposition.  There is a certain grit to it that we love.  

How do you get inspiration for new dishes?
Smoking weed, that helps the creative process.  A lot of it is how we grew up, nostalgia.  We spend time at Tattered Cover flipping through cookbooks and getting inspiration.  One thing will trigger us and become the catalyst for an innovative new dish.  

What would you like to see more or less of in the Denver food scene?
I love this town and feel so at home here, but the restaurant scene is something to be desired.  It is just very basic.  For me to exercise my creative muscle, so to speak, I’m not sure Denver is the place.  There are so many creative chefs in this town and they placate to the diners. Denver needs more of an education around food.  I don’t want to be that person, it is a big hat to wear.  Without question, I’m trying to do it by creating the menu we have.  This menu is the tip of the iceberg of what we’re capable of.  It is very tame.  I think in Denver, people are adventurous, but not experimental.

Once you hit a certain level, as far as business and the amount of food you’re putting out, you’re making sacrifices.  We get a pig once a week from Brush, CO.  If we’re cranking out food, there is no way that farmer can supply enough food to cover it.  We will have to sacrifice at some point if we grow too big, so I like being a bit under the radar.   Diners trust us to provide them with what we say we are providing them with. At some point, that stops. A local farm can not supply the city of Denver. It sucks, but that is the reality.

What is your FoodHigh moment?  Either a favorite food moment or a dish that takes you back to the first time you ate it.
Dan: Baked Camembert. This memory is part of why I put it on the menu.  As little kids, we’d sit down on the weekend, watch TV and my parents would bake Camembert in these little clay things and we’d scoop it on bread.  It was so good; I just loved it!  Another moment is one of my first high-end meals at Susur Lee in Toronto. It was on another level.  From the minute we walked in the door it was amazing service.  I remember moments of sitting there and giggling at how good this food was.
Bo: Mostly Ukrainian food does it for me.  The pierogies, kielbasa, blood sausage.  My grandma used to make that all the time with buckwheat.

Most undervalued ingredient?
Salt.  Any kind of acidity.  The whole idea is to have a balanced meal and it adds so much complexity if you season something properly and add acidity to it.

Do you have any chef mentors?
Dan: Tyler Skrivanek, Executive Chef of Duo.  I worked under him at Duo.  He taught me how to run a successful restaurant.  He is very good at his job.  Also Terrence Maul, Ming Tsai at Blue Ginger.  He taught me to do creative food.
Bo: Dan is one of mine!  When I first started, I didn’t have as much experience as Dan, but I’m a fairly creative person.  Working with him and him giving me the opportunity to think in a wildly creative fashion; I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Dan’s guidance.

Most important rules in your kitchen?
Work safely.  Have fun.  Be creative.

Any hidden gems we should know about?
Sputino
The Plimoth
To the Wind

Rebel Restaurant
3763 Wynkoop Street
Denver, CO
Monday _ 5-10 ish…
Tuesday _ 5 – 10 ish…
Wednesday _ 5 – 10 ish…
Thursday _ 5 – 10 ish…
Friday _ 5 – 2am
Saturday _ 3 – 2am
Sunday _ closed
Walk-Ins Only….except for parties of 6 or more.

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