A Life’s Journey through Global Cuisine
Is there anything better than food or skiing? Not for Durango restaurant owner, Paul Gelose. As a self-proclaimed ski bum and a thoroughly seasoned food guru, he’d argue that those two things are what ultimately led him to become owner of the downtown landmark, The Palace Restaurant.
A part of Durango’s rich western history, The Palace Restaurant has been serving Durango for at least 40 years and under Gelose for just over ten. But Gelose had been working up to that point for much longer, from the time he was a kid living in Buffalo, New York to his ski days in renowned mountain towns to now, in his current home of Durango.
Unlike most stories though, this one doesn’t start with love, but rather necessity. Growing up in a blue-collar suburb, Paul’s family worked long hours so Gelose found himself as the appointed cook of a family of four. From the time he was eight or nine, he started creating meals from scratch or from his mom’s recipe book in order to keep the family fed. It was necessity, but backed by the love of experimentation and the love of his Italian Sicilian family who embraced his talent for cooking.
“I looked at this restaurant and new it was the real deal, even Oprah thought so, it’s a really beautiful restaurant.” – Paul Gelose
“I don’t know if that was the drive to become a cook, but that transition came later,” Gelose said.
For a long time, cooking was simply something he did to keep his family moving but over the years it transformed into a lifelong passion — that and skiing.
“I thought that if I was a cook, I could move out west and I could ski and work in a restaurant. I could eat and all I needed was just to find a place to live and money for a ski pass — it was that simple,” Gelose said.
Of course things are never that simple, but as a self-proclaimed rebel he made the move anyway.
It was the 70’s and the ski industry was just on the cusp of becoming really big. Not just the industry, but ski towns were coming out of the woodworks along with hotels and restaurants to accommodate the new influx of ski tourism. Everything was on the edge of getting bigger and Paul was riding the wave — or rather the slopes.
The beginning of his career as a professional ski bum/cook was a modest one in Steamboat Springs making $4.00 an hour as a breakfast cook.
“I was living the dream but I worked days so I wasn’t skiing and it wasn’t quite working out the way I’d envisioned,” Gelose said.
The cooking industry was a tough and demanding one and he was working 60, 70, sometimes 80 hour work weeks under a watchful eye of his tough-loving mentor, a Swiss chef that would change Gelose’s course of his career.
“My success today was because of this Swiss chef I worked for. Because he was such a hard ass, he was really hard to work for. He loved you but it was tough love, which made me strong. This industry is so hard and he showed me I had to sacrifice a lot to get to where I am,” Gelose said.
It was that chef that helped Gelose get his first cooking job overseas in Switzerland where he stayed for two years working in Swiss and French hotels and implementing a goal of working for the best chefs at the best restaurants. He worked side by side with the elite and met enough people to keep him traveling and working in Europe for years.
“I did whatever it took to just be around these Michelin chefs,” Gelose said.
After dabbling in the world of Michelin-starred restaurants and working under some of the best, Paul returned to the states and eventually found himself in Telluride owning a catering company and a restaurant on top of Telluride Mountain. It was in the early 90’s when Telluride was emerging for the elite and because of his company, ended up rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.
“Oprah had moved to town and bought a home and wanted to throw a party. Her realtor was a friend of mine and so we were connected and I got the job. It was a three day weekend party and it went off pretty good.”
That wouldn’t be the last time Gelose would hear from Oprah. She had annual trips to Telluride and now she sought out Gelose as her personal cook during her visits and after she got to know him, she invited him out to east to be her personal chef there.
“Harper Studios called me and they asked me if I wanted to move to Chicago, and I thought about it and then asked them, ‘well, how’s the skiing?’” Gelose joked.
“The menu is really a tour of my life.” – Gelose said
He admits he had a bit of tunnel vision back then, but it’s that tunnel vision that led him through to becoming a successful cook and restaurant owner.
After a year of working for Oprah, Paul’s heart lead him back west to Colorado and to The Palace Restaurant.
He’s been running the Palace now for over ten years and has tried to keep the integrity of the restaurant congruent with what customers have come to know and love, but with a little flare of his own. Gelose has a background in baking so he created a baking space in the restaurant; where he makes his own breads and desserts. He’s perfected sauces and added a few of his own recipes into the menu. Along the way, he has brought a mix of high-class dishes that he learned from working with the elite and home cooking like one of the Palace’s most popular dish – chicken and dumplings; which speaks volumes because Gelose’s life has taken him to many places and to see many things. If his menu is as packed full of flavor as his life, then all of his dishes are deliciously lucky.
Story written by Jennaye Dirge | Photos provided by The Palace Restaurant