When Bradford Heap opened Colterra in 2006, it was a quiet rustle in a culinary scene otherwise buzzing about Denver. But Heap—whose pedigree is lined with Michelin-starred chefs, including the likes of Alain Ducasse and Gary Danko—was intent on harnessing Colorado bounty and beauty. Niwot was the perfect place to start.

Eleven years on, that vision hasn’t changed. While Heap has opened other concepts since he lovingly renovated the old Radek Cerny destination in Niwot—including SALT Bistro on Pearl Street in Boulder and its sister seafood concept, Wild Standard, next door—his hallmark TLC has never waned.

For about a year now, Chef de Cuisine Flavio Arrellano has helmed the kitchen at the house-turned-fine-dining-staple off Franklin Street. And for Arrellano, there is no mistaking the Heap vision—ever-present in the seasonal menu shifts, sourcing, and hospitality.

“Chef Heap wants to focus on local and GMO-free ingredients. It’s more than just a mission; it’s a passion of his.”

Chef Bradford Heap
Chef Bradford Heap (photo by Danielle Lirette)

Arrellano lights up when he talks about the shishito peppers he recently landed from Cure Farm just down the road in Gunbarrel. And the Alaskan king salmon the restaurant enjoys (when supply allows). And the housemade charcuterie, highlighted by a peculiarly piquant mole-cured salami. The list goes on and on.

“We do everything we can to source our ingredients locally,” Arrellano says. “Our beef, pork, and lamb come from Buckner Family Farm in Boulder and our vegetables are as local as you can get—from Oxford Farms, Munson Farms, Rogues Farm.”

Some have argued that this local-first ethos is nothing new, and that Heap is no pioneer. But the chef’s vision stretches back more than a decade to when local sourcing was seldom on our minds. When Colterra—a portmanteau of “collo” and “terra,” translating to “cultivate the earth”—opened its doors, seasonal and local were only starting to catch buzz, and there was little education behind it. Heap, always ahead of the culinary curve, wanted to change that. He knew what local meant before the rest of the Front Range could really define it. “Eating local” was, and is, a way of living that allows for native climates to grow what is always best grown naturally, while also reducing the environmental impact of mass ingredient transportation.

This responsibility is paramount to both Heap and Arrellano, who work in tandem to deliver the best of Colorado product. But flavor is no afterthought; simple, studied technique in the kitchen produces starred dishes like Arrellano’s salt-dusted Shishitos and the ruby red Beet Salad with Haystack chèvre.

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Part of the appeal of Colterra is its tiered menu. Nibble on appetizers with a glass of wine; split a few small plates and cocktails; or cozy in for a coursed affair that lasts hours. In other words, you can celebrate the community and bounty of Colterra for $20 or $200 and be eminently satisfied either way—it all depends on the experience you’re after.

If you do dive into some larger plates, however, pay close attention to the specials. Arrellano has two rotating on a regular basis, though promises more in the months ahead. These, he asserts, are the best showcase of organic, local, GMO-free product available. “Bradford called me just the other day,” he smiles. “He said, ‘I have several pounds of wild-caught salmon. Do you want it?’ Of course I did. What chef wouldn’t? I knew I’d find a way to use it.”

That salmon docked in a recent special: a fillet, capped with crispy skin, nestled on a bed of summer squash risotto. That may sound so cliché it’s not worth ordering, but the exact opposite is true; there is a discernible, delectable difference between Colterra execution and that of less attentive concepts. Anyone can throw salmon on rice. Not everyone can present fork-tender, wild-caught Alaskan salmon atop al dente carnaroli risotto with the punctuation of earthy zucchini.

Arrellano and his team are rightfully proud of their new pastry talent, too. Harnessing seasonal bounty, the sweets team recently produced a last-act Peach Tart à la mode that was decidedly humble, while managing to be nuanced in texture, spice, and temperature. And let’s be real; nothing beats an in-season Palisade peach.

Still, the question remains: Why should Gunbarrelites make the trek to Colterra? Could you amble down from your condo or home in Gunbarrel to something a little closer? Yes, of course. But Niwot is only a hop away, and celebrates the seasons in a way nothing in Gunbarrel does—at least, not yet.

If inspired Colorado dining and an unwavering commitment to local product doesn’t draw you to Colterra, perhaps this will: The green-sleeved patio, already second-to-none, may soon see its own menu. It will be yet another reason to visit and stay a while amid blooming bulbs and stretching vines. If you’re lucky, you may even see Chef Heap striking up conversations with guests. If you see him, be sure to ask about this whole non-GMO thing; he’s likely to inspire you.

For more information on Colterra and to view complete menus, visit colterra.com. Or, just drop by for a drink and see where the day takes you; Colterra is located at 210 Franklin Street in Niwot.

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