Chef Mark Henry is having a moment—or a whole string of them. In March 2016, he won Food Network’s Cooks vs. Cons. Then in December, he notched a championship on the popular show Chopped. And in early May, he will open his first restaurant, Rooster’s House of Ramen, in the budding craft district on North Tejon. As the rising celebrity chef prepares to “make America slurp again,” he’s drawing on his past to propel the Springs’ scene forward.
Henry first came to town when he was stationed at Fort Carson. After seven years of Army service, he was medically retired here in 2009. As he considered his next move, a military transitional program helped him find a new opportunity to provide for his family: attending culinary school.
He admits he was “kind of lost” after returning from his last deployment and coming to grips with the experiences of combat in Iraq. “It was hard for me to adjust back to civilian life,” Henry says. “It wasn’t until I found food that I got a handle on being me again. It really helped me get my life back together. Food gave me a focus, a purpose, and it calmed me back down.”
Henry began working in restaurants around the Springs, cooking at Flying Horse and The Blue Star. He opened the Meat Locker at Ivywild School and then became the executive chef at Brother Luck’s Street Eats in 2015.
Mark Henry also tapped into the earliest roots of his food journey, cooking and growing vegetables with his mother. Now he and his wife and their three daughters tend their own garden at their home in Fountain, where they raise chickens, ducks and rabbits, and harvest eggs that will be used in the restaurant. He says they try to avoid mass-produced foods, preferring those they can harvest and create with at their peak of freshness.
“Food is important, but what’s more is food education,” Henry says. “I have put a lot of intentionality in my career behind that. You only get a short period of time to play with foods and what’s the best way to showcase those.”
Henry’s authentic approach to creating local, seasonal dishes is summed up in his food philosophy: “Finding the best starting ingredients.” And it translates well into his style of cooking, which Food Network characterizes as “elevated carnivore.”
“No matter the style, the restaurant or menu, I start from the protein out,” Mark Henry says. “I’m figuring out things that interest my palate, and I really like to work with people that grow great protein.”
“He takes extremely approachable items and gives them a twist—or items that would be too out there for normal palates and makes them accessible,” says Sean Fitzgerald, owner of the Wobbly Olive and The Collective: A Social House. “He’s your everyday man’s personal chef because he makes food that everybody loves.”
Henry has had an unexpected catalyst to reflect on what he truly enjoys preparing. Last September, he suffered a severe motorcycle accident.
“I thought, If I come out of this, I want to do this [new restaurant] for myself and for my family—do the things that make me happy,” he says. “A great tragedy can be an awakening, and for me it was. The accident gave me the time to plan things out. It was the push I needed to jump off that cliff and take the risk.”
Mark Henry is almost fully recovered, but he returns with a new focus to live out his dream by bringing one of his favorite foods to Colorado Springs: ramen.
“It makes a ton of sense; nobody else is doing it. Colorado Springs can benefit from having that style of food,” Henry says. “This is noodles and whatever you want to do. There are no rules. I can play with all those techniques, ingredients and influences and put them together in this bowl of soup. And it makes me incredibly happy to do it. Cooking, turning out and sitting down to a bowl of ramen is euphoric for me.”
Rooster’s House of Ramen
Expect noodle bowls and soups—fun, approachable, creative and messy.
Opening May 2017.
323 N. Tejon St.