When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it hit Durango’s restaurant industry hard. One of the casualties was Dave Cuntz, who was laid off from his position as executive chef at Carver Brewing Co. Fans of his cooking will be glad to hear that he’s landed on his feet – at The Roost.
“With COVID closing us down, we decided to regroup for The Roost,” co-owner Michele Redding said. “We came up with the idea to bring Dave on as a consultant to help us restructure a kitchen and update our menu. It was such a great fit that we’re lucky enough to be able to ... bring him on on a permanent basis.”
Cuntz said he is in the process of elevating the food at The Roost to American with international cuisine. The restaurant will still have favorites, such as the prime rib the space has been famous for since it was Randy’s, but the menu will also change to set its entrees and appetizers apart from its sister eatery, Cuckoo’s Chicken House.
The chef describes his style as “simple yet flavorful cuisine.”
Two of the most popular new items, Cuntz said, are the Stirling Silver Teriyaki Tri-Tip Steak and the Parmesan-Encrusted Cod.
Redding added that bacon-wrapped meatloaf is a personal favorite for her.
“It’s comfort food elevated,” she said.
Like many chefs, Cuntz first began cooking with his mother and grandmother as a child. His first foray into the world of professional cooking, though, came when a woman who worked at his middle school in Denver, and who his family knew through church, asked him if he wanted to help out in the cafeteria during lunch.
“She goes, ‘You get to leave your fourth period early,’ and I say, ‘Yeah! I’m in!” he said. “I learned how to make sheet pan pizzas, learned how to flip a lot of burgers, to get ready for lunch. And then during lunch, I was handing out food, doing all the things. I had 15 minutes at the end to eat my own lunch and get back to class.”
He worked at the busiest Pizza Hut in Colorado (at the time) in high school before coming to Durango to attend Fort Lewis College. He cooked at Carvers during college and for a short period after graduating in 1990. He then spent some time learning French cuisine at the University of Savoie in Chambery, France, and working at a King Crab Fishery in Alaska before attending the New England Culinary institute in Montpelier, Vermont.
After stints in Boulder and Louisville, Kentucky, he returned to Durango, where he spent eight years cooking and managing the restaurants at the Strater Hotel. Then in 2012, he made his way back to Carvers and stayed there until the COVID-19 shutdown. During this time he received not just local but also national attention, even winning Guy’s Grocery Games on the Food Network in 2015.
“Chef Dave,” as many call him, is also famous for his volunteer work, helping design Manna’s culinary kitchen and organizing the Sexual Assault Services Organization’s Collaborative Chef’s Showcases.
“I feel like for any small town, if you have the knowledge and the persona to be able to use it to give back, then I think you should,” he said. “My goal in life is to make people happy.”
While the coronavirus threw the entire restaurant industry for a loop at first, the shutdown ultimately left Cuntz recharged and ready to get back to work creating in the kitchen.
“I haven’t had that much time off since I was 13, and it was like six parts,” he said. “I got to know my wife again, and my children. I didn’t have to work 60 or 70 hours a week anymore. And now coming back here, I’m ready, I’m fresh, I’m ready to go.”