Matsuhisa Master

Chef Kyle Marston brings fresh local ingredients and a simple philosophy to Nobu’s new Denver outpost.

Photo by Annette Slade

Chef Kyle Marston is no stranger to cooking. The Cincinnati native, who spent nearly a decade as chef de cuisine of the now-shuttered John’s Restaurant in Boulder and two years teaching digestible knowledge to fresh-faced students attending Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder, stepped into his first professional kitchen when he was 15. “Over the course of several years cooking in fine-dining restaurants in my hometown—Portland, Oregon— and Colorado, I’ve picked up new styles and techniques,” says the 37-year-old kitchen magician, who’s now presiding over the culinary wheelhouse of Matsuhisa, the swanky Denver outpost of Nobu Matsuhisa’s exalted Japanese- Peruvian restaurant. “While I was at John’s, I had the opportunity to express my creativity on the plate, and while I enjoyed being in the world of academia once John’s closed, I missed the thrill and satisfaction that can only be experienced in a restaurant, and that’s why I chose to take on this exciting adventure at Matsuhisa,” Marston explains. We recently caught up with the chef, who shared his first impressions of his world-famous boss, the secret weapons in his kitchen and a definition of “kiss” that doesn’t involve locking lips.

I kind of lived in the moment when I was young and had no idea what I wanted to do. I was just trying to have as much fun as I could before I grew up. In high school I eventually found my ambition while cooking at a place called Salsa’s in Cincinnati. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of working in a kitchen and realized that I was making people happy. It came as a surprise to my folks when I told them that I was going to culinary school after I graduated, but for me, there was no other path I could see myself persuing. I wanted to cook.

My mom was my biggest culinary influence. We didn’t always have a lot, so she made simple food—but she made it well. We’d have marinated pork chops, baked spaghetti and cornbread—things like that. Her deference to simplicity is the same philosophy I try to maintain in my own cooking. You can’t go wrong when you keep things simple.

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I was the chef de cuisine at John’s restaurant in Boulder for nine years. I was able to pick and choose what we put on the menu, create wine dinners for local Colorado wine companies, as well as small vineyards around the world, and build relationships with local farms and farmers. We had a collective seasonal menu that made an impact all over the world; researching different cuisine styles, flavors and techniques was one of my favorite things to do.

Before I made the move to Matsuhisa, I was teaching at a culinary school in Boulder, where I had the opportunity to teach the global cuisine block. When the opportunity to work at Matsuhisa came up, I jumped at the chance to learn about—and create—Nobu’s incredibly inspiring dishes. His Peruvian-Japanese fusion cuisine is so artistic and elegant. A lot of people don’t realize, however, that Matsuhisa is more than just a fantastic sushi place; we have an unbelievable hot kitchen menu as well.

I first met Nobu at a sake ceremony after the opening of Matsuhisa. I found him calm and collected. It was very inspiring.

It’s a cliché, but the best career advice I was ever given is: Do it nice or do it twice.

Cooking in the kitchen of one of the world’s most respected restaurant brands still feels a little surreal. It’s hard to wrap my head around how incredibly influential this restaurant group is. I just try to do my best day in and day out.

Photo by Annette Slade

While Nobu created the Matsuhisa menu, I get to design and create the omakases and specials each day. It’s very important to me to use local ingredients, so I spent the entire summer going to local farms and farmers’ markets to source the ingredients for my dishes. I like to support local businesses as much as possible, but the places that are most consistent with their products are also a plus.

If I could give one piece of advice to aspiring chefs, it would be to simply keep your head down and work. Experience is everything. You’ll learn much more about cooking by actually doing the work than just talking about it.

I’m most motivated by the fact that my profession is all about making people happy through food.

My secret weapon in the kitchen is patience and being aware of everything that’s going on around me: the food, the staff and the importance of time.

The biggest misconception about being a chef is that you don’t have to yell … but sometimes it helps if you do.

The heightened interest in celebrity chefs and cooking in general hasn’t been great for our industry. Too many people spend a lot of money on culinary school believing that they’ll become the next celebrity chef. In reality, they have to work long, long hours just like the rest of us. Many of the culinary school students have no idea what they are signing up for.

People would be most surprised to know that when I’m not at work, I’m generally out riding my motorcycles, especially in the summer. You just can’t beat the beauty of the Rocky Mountain roads.

My mom’s Thanksgiving dinners are my all-time most memorable meals. I’m excited for them every time I go back to Cincinnati because they always make me feel at home.

There isn’t much food in my refrigerator, and like most chefs, I spend a lot of time at the restaurant, but after a boozy night, I always have fixings at home for a smoked Gouda, heirloom tomato and Ibérico ham grilled-cheese sandwich.

I’m most grateful for my family, friends and living in Colorado. It’s such a beautiful place!

Matsuhisa Denver
98 Steele St.