2011 Hands

Heath Thomson. Originally from Northern California, Heath first came to Boulder to earn his degree in environmental design at CU. But after spending a full year rendering a single office chair for a design firm in New Zealand, he decided to focus his attention and creativity on his true passion: food. His search for materie prime has taken him to some far flung places—foraging for chanterelles in the woods of Upper Michigan, rounding up livestock at a sheep station downunder, pulling king salmon out of the frigid waters of Alaska. But his cooking experience isn't limited to campfires and cast iron skillets. Heath has cooked in several highly acclaimed Bay Area establishments, including Boulette's Larder, in San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace. In fact, when he first crossed his arms and leaned back to inspect our battered wood-burning grill, we worried he might be disappointed to give up his gleaming copper pots for a place in our kitchen bus. But then his gaze gave way to a broad smile and he said, simply, "I can't wait." That's when we knew we'd found our guy.

Drew Duggan. Which of the following is true about Drew: a) he studied voice and can belt out an operatic solo; b) he spent years working in IT at Amazon; c) he toured Germany playing the saxophone with a band; d) he was a cheese buyer for Zingerman's Delicatessen; e) he was arrested after a slow-speed chase in which the bulldozer he was driving failed to outrun two cop cars. The answer, oddly, is f) all of the above. It was only during our late-night staff dinners—particularly those involving a special bottle Drew had brought for us to share—that we began to grasp the extent and strangeness of his multifarious exploits. And between the head-spinning tales, Drew would delve into details of the wine at hand, from the history of the papacy that led to Châteauneuf du Pape, to French wine law and the sixteen grape varietals permitted in the blend. Drew was, after all, Meadow Lark's sommelier, choosing wine pairings and uncorking bottles—oh, and also lifting all those heavy tents and tables—while studying for his Master Sommelier diploma. We were honored that the former wine director of Seattle's renowned Herbfarm—not to mention all those other qualifications—chose to join us in the field for a season.

Mackenzie Bentley. Mackenzie wants to make the world a better place. As soon as she finished college at the University of Oklahoma, Mackenzie took off to Sierra Leone to work in an orphanage and on various community development projects. But her family and Oklahoma roots—and a serious bout with malaria—drew her back home, and she entered a rigorous culinary internship which soon had her working in several Oklahoma City kitchens. Her work ethic and knife skills landed her a job in Washington's DC's Komi. But working with top-quality ingredients in one of America's best restaurants only made Mackenzie more eager to step out of the stainless steel kitchen and onto a farm, to experience first-hand where all her watermelon radishes and tatsoi leaves were coming from. Mackenzie may believe it was fate that brought her to us—she and Veronica ran into each other in the 14th Street subway station in downtown Manhattan en route to their lunch (read: interview) in the East Village—but it was really her huge heart and her bottomless passion for the causes she believes in.

Austin Doll. Let's put it this way: If you've got a daughter, Austin is the guy you hope she'll bring home one day. Or maybe this way: If you're an employer—any employer—Austin is your guy. Or maybe just: Vote for Doll! For what? Doesn't matter. He'll be good at anything—that's the thing about Austin. He came to us from Indiana, where he'd just wrapped up his degree in Hospitality and Food Management & Marketing at Ball State University. His studies put him on the line in many a kitchen, and on the floor in big executive dining rooms not entirely like Meadow Lark—including, for instance, those at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Hershey Entertainment & Resorts. But apparently the race cars and even Hershey's 'Circular Dining Room' did not provide enough excitement: Austin spent his school breaks milking cows on family farms, and otherwise kept busy as his Slow Food chapter's student liason, and coordinating donations and collections for local food banks. At Meadow Lark, Austin became Bella's best friend, squeezing her unscathed through narrow passageways and always positioning her just right so that her work surface was exactly level. More importantly, his enthusiasm for everything we do was infectious—he even got Mackenzie to plunge across a river on a rope swing!