Colorado Springs chef reinventing himself and restaurant | Lifestyle

If anybody deserves to graduate from the college of arduous knocks, it’s Phil Duhon.

He’s been a fixture within the Colorado Springs eating scene for the reason that early 1980s, when he snagged his first restaurant job as a busboy and cook dinner on the former Mission Inn.

“The Hillstrom family took me in,” he mentioned. “I was part of their family. I always knew I could have a job there.”

For 15-year-old Duhon, aside from time together with his mother’s dad and mom, that was as close to a traditional household setting as he had skilled.

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“We were poor,” he mentioned. “Rent was due on the fifth day of the month. Mom didn’t have rent money, so we’d move on the sixth day of the month at midnight.”

His mom labored as a bartender round city. “I was the kid in the corner with Crayolas and paper. My mom was a good person with low education. She did the best she could.”

When he was 6, she married Larry Duhon, from Lake Charles, La., who was within the Air Force and adopted Phil. But by the point Phil was 9, the couple had parted methods.

“My stepdad got custody of me when I was 12,” Duhon mentioned. “We didn’t move as much, and my home life was a little more consistent.”

Even so, he mentioned, “I went to 13 schools by the time I was in the 12th grade.”

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Building a profession … and some unhealthy habits

Duhon picked up the bottle at a younger age and developed a ingesting behavior that will canine him till he was 48.

“I drank daily by the time I was 15,” he mentioned. “I passed out every day by the time I was 17.”

That was the yr he moved out of his stepdad’s residence to dwell on his personal.

“My dad had been stationed in Panama, and we came back to the Springs,” he mentioned. “I left his home to live on my own.”

He obtained his job on the Mission Inn. By the time he turned 20, he labored as a cook dinner on the Stagecoach Inn, the place he obtained fired for calling in sick on Mother’s Day. His subsequent firing was on the Sunbird, when the eatery was in its heyday. Then he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music profession.

“That’s where all my hopes and dreams were shattered,” he mentioned. “I worked in restaurants and played in bands. I even sold tube socks door to door to make some money.”

After a yr in L.A., he returned to Louisiana. “I lived in Houma, which is about 60 miles south of New Orleans. I worked offshore, where I picked up some of my Southern-style cooking.”

Then he obtained an opportunity to work at Charlie G’s in Lafayette. “Charlie’s was an upscale New Orleans-style restaurant, similar to the (MacKenzie’s) Chop House right here within the Springs with a Southern aptitude.

“I obtained my first govt chef job on the Ritz once I was 27. I used to be there from 1997 to 2001. That’s the place I took cooking severely.”

Duhon took over the previous Ritz Grill’s kitchen whereas the overall supervisor was Luke Travins, co-owner of Concept Restaurants.

“I’m guessing it was 1996,” Travins mentioned. “Dave (Lux) and I always had the idea to do some ‘Cajun Nights,’ and Phil hit a home run with them. Back then, The Ritz Grill was the only place that threw a Fat Tuesday party, and obviously it caught on.”

Duhon moved on to be govt chef at MacKenzie’s Chop House, one other Concept Restaurant. He left in 2003 to open his personal Oscar’s Oyster Bar.

“Everyone always liked his home-style, easy-to-understand cooking,” Travins mentioned. “Phil could do the classics very well and didn’t try to over-engineer what he knew would sell. Several great cooks and chefs that worked under him have gone on to open their own places, which is a testimony to him.”

Jay Gust, president and chef at Ascent Restaurant Group, is an instance. He began his profession in The Ritz Grill kitchen below Duhon’s management. Gust has labored his means into partnership/possession of a number of native eateries below the Ascent banner, together with Pizzeria Rustica, Tapateria and Smorbrod.

Road to restoration

Duhon continued to depend on booze to get him by way of the day and evening. By 10 a.m., he had loaded up on vodka. He was coping with three DUIs, a divorce and authorized points that his enterprise suffered as a result of his overindulging.

“May 7, 2017, I woke up and wanted to commit suicide,” he mentioned. “I didn’t want my children to have a father like me. I wanted my children to have a better life, and my answer was not to be here.”

Then he heard a voice in his head: “Alcohol is the common denominator in all your problems, and it needs to be eliminated now.”

Duhon mentioned he has not touched alcohol since.

“I don’t have a desire to drink at all. I help other alcoholics. I do community service work. I read and stay in recovery programs and go to church now.”

He mentioned he’s not non secular however considers himself non secular.

“Religion is for people who are afraid to go to hell,” he mentioned. “Spirituality is for people who’ve been there.”

Now 50, Duhon is rebuilding his life. He’s left a whole lot of baggage, and he mentioned he’s working to heal relationships with family members and achieve their belief and confidence.

He can be rebuilding his restaurant enterprise with Midtown Grill (previously Oscar’s Oyster Bar).

“I want a place for families to have comfort food in a relaxed atmosphere,” he mentioned. “We’re completely nonsmoking, and there’s options for those who want to be with friends who enjoy a drink but do not want to consume alcohol.”

James Africano, proprietor of The Warehouse, speaks extremely of Duhon and his contributions to the group.

“Phil has been an influential leader, chef and restaurateur in town for over two decades,” he mentioned in an e mail. “As with all of us, there have been some bumps in the road, but Phil has survived, struggled, thrived and reinvented himself professionally, but most importantly personally, to glean the respect of peers and the community alike. I am excited for the new concept he has brought to the revitalizing New South End!”

Contact the author: 636-0271.

contact the author: 636-0271.

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