The secret to our consistency is the high caliber of staff we employ. We don’t have one “star chef”; we have many. We set out to provide every guest a wonderful dining experience, from the moment you walk through our doors to your last bite of dessert. We’d love to introduce you to the people who make up the special Larkspur family.
I’ve been a chef and restaurateur for over 35 years, and have developed, managed, and operated dozens of successful restaurants in Colorado and beyond. Today, as founder and CEO of Savory Group, I own and manage two of the Vail Valley’s most highly acclaimed restaurants: Larkspur and Larkburger.
Throughout my career, I’ve never wanted to be called “chef.” I take a very personal approach to my work as a chef and manager, and I don’t want anything — especially a title — to interfere with the connection I share with my staff and guests. So when you visit me at Larkspur, please, call me Thomas.
At an early age I discovered I loved the craft of cooking; I loved food and working in a kitchen. I didn’t grow up in a culinary home, but it was definitely creative. My father was a Grammy-nominated choral conductor with a penchant for precision, and my mother taught me about design. She created the most beautiful tables, flower arrangements, and clothes. I was fortunate to have been influenced by parents who were both visionaries in their own ways.
I had the good fortune of working with a few “culinary legends,” during my formative years as a chef, who continue to inspire me today. After attending and instructing at the California Culinary Academy in the early 1980s, I had the unique opportunity to work with famous chefs Jeremiah Towers at Stars and Wolfgang Puck at Postrio. On a year-long tour in France, I worked and studied in the kitchens of Michelin three-star rated restaurants l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges under Paul Bocuse and Lucas Carton in Paris, two-star restaurant Elysee Lenôtre in Paris, and the world-renowned bakery Poilane Boulangerie.
One of my earliest culinary influences was Madame Madeleine Kamman, who started the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards in California. She gave us books to read that had nothing to do with food. She said: “You cannot be in this industry unless you’re a well–rounded human being.” That made quite an impression on me. I continue to keep my eyes open to the world around me, always looking for sources of inspiration that I can bring to our next event.
In 1993 I moved to Vail to become executive chef at Sweet Basil, and a few years later designed and opened Zino Ristorante in Edwards. My wife, Nancy, and I opened Larkspur in 1999, and in 2005 we launched the popular Larkburger, which now has 11 different locations. Over the years I’ve been hired as a consultant to design and open numerous restaurants in the Vail Valley and beyond. I’ve also had appearances on several national television shows such as “CBS This Morning” and “The Today Show.”
It’s been quite an adventure. If I didn’t wake up in the morning feeling passionate about what I do, then I’d stop doing it. But there’s always something new to learn, and I’m constantly looking for the next great concept. I love events, because I’m always thinking of new ways to customize events for my clients.
I came onto the restaurant scene in the 1980s, at the beginning of the food movement in California. In those days the concept of “farm to table” was more literal than it is today. Trucks went to the farms six days per week to get the freshest ingredients.
So when people ask me to describe the type of cuisine we prepare at Larkspur, I hesitate to use some of the terms that are now on every menu. Of course we use seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Of course we work with local farms and growers to find the freshest produce. But I don’t think “the expected” needs to be advertised.
Although we have some “repertoire items” on our menus, I like to say that the raw ingredient tells me what it wants to be. Because that’s really the way it works. I look at what I have available, and then create dishes around those ingredients.
I love to talk, but the minute I touch food I stop talking. I’m obsessed by technique and systems. Every day there’s something to do better. Whether I’m preparing a new culinary creation or making a Larkburger for the 100th time, I make it with the same care and precision.
You have to pay attention throughout the entire process. It’s not just farm to table. It’s farm to kitchen to table. The evolution from raw ingredient to plated entrée has to be as seamless as possible. Because great food is fleeting. Just like a rose, food has its moment of perfection, and you have to capture and savor it.
In 2014 we changed our focus at Larkspur from a la carte dining to group events. And this has been such a great fit for us. I’ve always loved the idea of being able to completely re-design a space to capture a vision. But of course, great events aren’t just about décor. They’re about people — guests and staff — coming together to share a unique experience.
To make both of these things possible, you need a versatile venue and a great team of people. At Larkspur we have both. The culture at Larkspur is pretty incredible. We work together to create great events and leave our guests with a lasting impression. Everyone benefits from a great team environment.
With groups we also get to be creative, and creativity is my passion. I love being able to brainstorm ideas with my staff and clients. Group events are very personal, and we’ll work with event planners to create an atmosphere and menu that is unique to their special occasion. That may be something that every other event venue promises, but we take it to heart.
Weddings are some of the most important work we do. I feel so honored to prepare the table for two people who are breaking bread together as a family for the first time. This is such an important part of family life — the daily ritual of gathering together around the table to share a meal and conversation.
As a food, restaurant, and hospitality consultant, I’ve helped set up and re-structure dozens of food-and-beverage operations over the years. Consulting combines my skills as a leader and an operator, and has given me the opportunity to work with so many great people.
As an entrepreneur, I always opened businesses that were about something that interested me at the time — or a concept that I wanted to master. Right now helping others achieve their goals is what interests me. Through my work as a mentor and consultant, I’m able to use my skills and experience to help others. And that’s what it’s all about.
After several decades in the food and hospitality business, I can tell you exactly what it takes to either grow — or damage — a successful restaurant. And I believe this is knowledge that’s worth passing on. For example, we have systems for everything in our restaurants, and I’d rather teach them to you than see you fail without them.
I’m passionate about what I do, and I love sharing that passion with others.
Rafal Konka, Larkspur’s Managing Director, has an intrinsic gift of perception. Whether helping to determine the best choice of wine, or graciously visiting at the end of the meal, Rafal touches every guest with genuine hospitality.
He believes hospitality is in his roots, Rafal relates well to all individuals from his guests to his staff. He enjoys building teams and relies upon this skill to create a unified staff that effortlessly extends hospitality to others.
Known for its warm ambiance and contemporary American cuisine, Larkspur has found strength at the helm with Rafal. His goal for the future of the company is to exceed the expectations of every guest. Passion for his profession and concentrated knowledge of food, wine and service, Rafal is a winning combination that promises guests memorable experiences at Larkspur.
“When it comes to creating new concepts and showcasing delicious cuisine, I find it very satisfying to take a guest’s vision and exceed all expectations.”
After graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington with BBA in marketing, Aaron got his professional start in hospitality through working the front offices of fine hotels. He quickly worked his way up, first to group coordinator of sales, then conference services. In 2011, a stint at Aspen’s Food & Wine Festival evolved into Aaron winning the director of catering role at Hotel Jerome, a job he held for four years, and where he discovered his dual passions: the excitement of event planning, and the inspiring beauty of Rocky Mountain life.