Steven Nguyen moved to Summit County from Glenwood Springs in 1999 to pursue a career in the culinary arts at Colorado Mountain College. Seventeen years later, it has all come full circle for Chef Nguyen, who was promoted to executive chef for Keystone Hospitality in July 2015. It’s a well deserved role for Nguyen, who has worked in every kitchen in Keystone Resort’s hospitality division, from the fine dining atmosphere at the award-winning Ski Tip Lodge to the fast-paced conference center cafeteria.
“I knew I wanted to build a culinary career, and I needed to earn a degree,” said Nguyen.”I considered some big culinary schools before I realized I didn’t want to leave Colorado. After visiting Summit County, seeing the restaurants and meeting the chefs I knew this was where I needed to be. I was intrigued by the opportunity to gain experience and get paid while learning.”
Nguyen enrolled in Colorado Mountain College’s culinary apprenticeship program, which combines a traditional culinary education with a European-style apprenticeship. Culinary students are able to build their resume with a variety of professional experiences and skills before graduating from the program.
“The apprenticeship program is amazing,” said Nguyen. “I moved through the different resort restaurants in six month rotations, which exposed me to a plethora of different experiences; from fast, casual cafeteria style to fine dining, working with and learning from amazing chefs along the way.”
Steve graduated from Colorado Mountain College with high honors, was awarded Apprentice of the Year, and applied for the lead job at The Keystone Ranch Restaurant. A close friend beat him out for the position but his mentor, Joe Damonte, created a lead cook position for him at the Keystone Conference Center.
“It was humbling,” said Chef Nguyen. “At the time, I was all about fine dining and didn’t expect to be working in banquets. I started working my way up in the ranks, working under Joe, my mentor, for about eight years. He taught me how to ice carve and I became his right-hand man in the kitchen. He paved the way for me.”
Now, Nguyen oversees all kitchen operations within Keystone Resort’s hospitality division, which includes the Keystone Conference Center, Keystone Ranch, Ski Tip Lodge, Black Bear Grill, Bighorn Bistro & Bar, Edgewater Café and the River Course Grill. Additionally, Chef Nguyen is now in charge of Keystone ice carvings, allowing his creative juices to flow outside of kitchen.
It takes a combination of hard work, passion and humility to make it in the Summit County culinary industry for nearly two decades. Now it’s back where it all began for Nguyen, who oversees a new generation of students in CMC’s culinary apprenticeship program.
“Really what has been the most rewarding is being able to still be active in the program,” says Steve, “I love giving back to Colorado Mountain College and continuing to be involved in the community.”