OAK at fourteenth, the beloved fine-dining restaurant located in downtown Boulder, is welcoming a new executive chef to its ranks, John Bissell.
Bissell is a Colorado native who grew up in Black Forest, a small ranching community northeast of Colorado Springs. He attended the University of Colorado Boulder and worked as a prep cook when he wasn’t attending classes or studying. After graduation, he worked at Southern Sun Pub & Brewery and ran his own food truck and catering company called The Soup Gurus.
Later, he moved to Denver and worked at Old Major, then at Acorn, where he worked with chefs Steven Redzkowski and Amos Watts. After working at Lower48, he moved to Los Angeles and spent five years working in buzzy restaurants like Trois Mec, Manhattan Beach Post and Hippo.
In May, he reconnected with Redzkowski, OAK’s chef/owner, and decided it was time to move back home to Colorado with his fiance, Jessie, and his dog, Ruby. Bissell says he has long admired OAK, including from his college days at CU.
We chatted with Bissell to hear more about his career trajectory and his approach to cooking — and sourcing — delicious foods.
What drew you to OAK?
I hold an enormous amount of respect for Chef Steve (Redzikowski). He is an unrelenting worker; he never misses an opportunity to teach, his creativity is through the roof, and he never compromises standards. Being able to work with him again is a great opportunity to continue learning and developing myself in one of Colorado’s most respected kitchens.
What do you love most about Boulder?
Is it cliche to say nature? I can hike on every one of my days off, I get to stare at the Flatirons on my walk into work every day and I’m going to see snow for the first time in five years!
What’s your approach or philosophy around working with Colorado farmers?
The best way to get the best product is to go straight to the source. Not only is sourcing local the ethical thing to do, but it’s how you get the best tasting product. When you are trying to cook simply, your dish is only as strong as its weakest ingredient. We are very lucky that many of the farmers we work with are about 15 minutes away from the restaurant, so being able to have a constant, open dialogue with them is what helps us design our menu.
How does your Italian heritage/upbringing influence your cooking or your approach to fine dining?
Nowadays — immensely. As a young cook, I had no interest in Italian cuisine because I grew up with it. It didn’t have the spark of newness for me. Almost by chance, about 3.5 years ago, I ended up helping open an Italian restaurant in LA and I fell in love with Italian cuisine. Purity of ingredients and cooking techniques, simplicity, the importance of drinking wine with food — cooking with that thought process makes me feel at home. Occasionally, I have put on a very obviously Italian dish on the menu, but the thought process and the aesthetic are almost always filtered through that lens.