Interview: Epiphany with Chef Ben Gallegos-Pardo

The man behind the meals at the new Latin Fusion hotspot talks about family heritage, blending cuisines, connecting people through culinary experiences and favorite dishes he’d take if he were stranded on a desert island.

If you’re looking for an epiphany, you just might find it at the so-named new downtown hotspot. Epiphany opened on the corner of Tejon and Colorado late last year in the upstairs space formerly occupied by the Thirsty Parrot. The chic Latin Fusion cafe, restaurant, bar and live music venue is the latest concept by local restaurateur Russ Ware, this one in partnership with Mandy Todd and Chef Ben Gallegos-Pardo. Like its sister restaurants, The Wild Goose and Good Neighbors Meeting House, Epiphany is a community gathering space meant to draw people together for experiences around food and drink. The large stage and dance floor set the mood with live, sophisticated Latin and jazz. The no-tipping Hospitality Included model aims to ensure a more reliable, more equitable pay system for employees. And the American Latin Fusion menu sings with creative flavors and dishes drawn from Colombian, Spanish, Mexican, New Mexican and Coloradan cuisines. 

There’s a lot to the story of Epiphany. So we figured who better to tell it than the man behind the meals, Executive Chef Ben Gallegos-Pardo? Gallegos-Pardo comes to Epiphany by way of the former downtown Corto Cafe, which he owned, and most recently from Pikes Peak Community College, where he was the coordinator of multicultural student retention initiatives. He draws on a rich culinary heritage to enlighten the flavors of Epiphany. So, as he would say, “¡Ven a comer! (Come and eat),” and join our conversation.

Raising a toast at Epiphany, Colorado Springs
Photo by Stephen Martin, Explore With Media.

Springs: What is the emphasis at Epiphany and how have you translated your cultural background into the menu?

Ben Gallegos-Pardo: When Russ, Mandy and I started talking, we were looking for something unique and really wanting to bring a lot of different aspects together. People, ideas and experiences are our main goals for this place. I felt like I could translate that in a very relatable way through the food I grew up loving to make and that I’ve learned and use that to guide a conversation.

I think when people taste this food, they’re like, “Wow, this person must be from another country or another area.” No, I grew up here. This is my home. These are my streets, and that’s a conversation starter. I was always raised to be proud of my background. I am fully American. I am fully Latin. I am fully Colombian. I’m fully Mexican. And I have always found food to be a great uniter. If I can feed you and you can taste things, then we can have a conversation. That’s what Epiphany is all about: getting people to have conversations and learn and grow from the experience. 

We’ve launched with a core menu, but we’re going to have nightly specials, and we’re going to play with it and have fun. There might be nights that we do Latin street food. There might be nights when we do more formal, high-end dishes. All of it is within that area of come and learn something, have a conversation.

Ceviche on to stones at Epiphany, Colorado Springs
Ceviche de Camaron and Ceviche de Chicharronon on tostones. Photo by Stephen Martin, Explore With Media.

Tell us about some of the flavors and seasonings you use and how those are traditional in Colorado as well as in Latin cuisine.

We have so much history in Colorado of people sourcing things from the land to fit their traditional model of food. People think, “We have to go to Mexico to get traditional Mexico food.” Actually, Mexico is all these different regions. You can go to the coast. You can go to the border. You can go to Yucatan. Each region has its own flavor, and that’s true here too.

We use quelites, which is a type of spinach that grows in Southern Colorado. You fry that up, and it’s something that you sustain from the land. People think it’s just a weed, but it’s a native spinach here that grows all over the place. Overall, that’s part of the culture—whatever was there, you used it if it was edible and you mixed it with the flavors. So that’s what I try to put into the dishes and have fun with. From the fruits to the spinaches to the way we do the pork belly, it’s a very traditional way. 

We’re going to be doing some fry bread. It’s like the Indigenous and the Spanish mix. We’ve got chicos. Our families have been saving that stuff for centuries at the end of the harvest, figuring out how to use it over winter. At the end of the harvest, you would have all this leftover corn. You dry it out; you cook it in an horno, which is like a clay outdoor oven, and you store it in jars throughout the winter. Then you rehydrate it and have this burst of sweet and crunchy in the foods. Chicos are one of our dinner specials, and that’s what I’m sharing with people.

Ajiaco soup at Epiphany, Colorado Springs
Ajiaco, a hearty chicken soup with potatoes and corn. Photo by Stephen Martin, Explore With Media.

You use a lot of family recipes and flavors. What was your background like?

I grew up in my mom’s house on the Chicano and the New Mexico side, which is one complete flavor palate. The red chile sauce on the burrito, the green chiles, the chicken—kind of more from the land. The quelites, the Indigenous, is from my mom’s side. Then I’d go spend time with my dad who’s from the Caribbean. He’s first-generation American. He immigrated here in ’82. He lives in Northern Colorado, and my aunt and family would come from Colombia and bring all these crazy flavors from Colombia.

Both families speak Spanish. Both families have the Hispanic cultural traditions but completely different flavor palates, and that always blew my mind. So while other cousins and family members were out playing during the day, I was observing my grandmothers. I grew up watching them on both sides, seeing how you use different things, the flavors. Neither side of the family was affluent at all, but no matter who walked in the house, they were bombarded with food. My grandmothers never knew if guests were coming over, but the stove was always full of food. I’m thinking like, “Is there a party or something going on today?” It was like, “No, I’m just making food.” So at any given moment, you could have 20 people show up, and there would be a full meal with great flavors. I think I just absorbed it all.

Then, because my mom was a single mom and very busy providing for me, my sister and, at times, different cousins living with us, I decided to take on cooking. My cousin would make mac and cheese and burn it five times out of seven during the week. So I think that was a big motivation. I thought, “I’ve seen my grandmothers do this; let me start making dinner for me and my siblings.”

I think those two experiences really drove my passion for cooking. I love hosting people, feeding people, watching them have fun, having drinks.

If you’re stuck on a desert island, what one type of dish would you want from each course on your Epiphany menu?

My go-to for starters is, for sure, the ceviches. I can’t pick one or the other, but I just love that tanginess. If I was forced, I would do the shrimp ceviche. I just love that fresh, meaty, citrus, so that’d be my starter.

My main course—I’d probably go with the  ajiaco soup. It has a bunch of different flavors and ranges. We make that at home in the middle of summer and the middle of winter. It’s just a go-to all the time.

I love flans. That’s the dessert I would go with.

For a cocktail, the Eye Opener, with jalapeño and raspberries. It’s got spicy and tangy in it. I love that. It kind of goes back to my flavor profile. 

Live music on stage at Epiphany, Colorado Springs
Catch live music every Friday and Saturday nights. Photo by Stephen Martin, Explore With Media.

What do you feel like Epiphany is bringing to the Colorado Springs dining scene as it continues to evolve?

What I’m hoping for and what I enjoy when I’m traveling—and I think the Springs is getting there—is people wanting to try new things, and learn about them and not expect it to be your chain restaurants. Those were kind of the M.O. of the Springs when I was growing up here that we’re trying to change.

We’re a Latin fusion restaurant. You don’t need fake adobe walls. You don’t need people wearing sombreros and shaking maracas to give you a sense that you’re in another country. No, you can have really good, unique, authentic flavors and enjoy jazz and have a craft cocktail. You don’t have to fall into a stereotype. You can come in with an open mind for a new experience. 

If you go to Mexico, New Mexico, Southern Colorado, Colombia, you can go to five houses in a row and ask for the same dish. Each one is going to have some of the same flavor profile, but then also a unique touch to it. So based on regions, based on flavors, you’re getting an authentic dish, but it might not be what you’re expecting. We’re offering a really unique experience and flavor.

And because of our relationships with the downtown community, with other business owners, we encourage people, “Yeah, go try this place. Go to that business. They’ve got a unique experience.” It doesn’t take away from us. We want people to have those experiences. That’s what I hope we’re bringing. So far, I believe we’re succeeding, and we’ve got a good plan to keep new flavors and new experiences coming to people.

Woman laughs at table with drink, downtown Colorado Springs
Photo by Stephen Martin, Explore With Media.

When you’re not cooking in the kitchen here, where will we find you?

I have three kids, 15, 12 and 5 years old. My wife is a nurse at Memorial Central. So if we are not working, we’re cheering on a kid at volleyball, basketball or soccer. We’re supporting our kids in some place on the sideline or in the concert hall. And I love it.

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Jeremy Jones
Jeremy Jones is Springs’ co-founder, editorial director and chief outdoor officer. He loves building community by telling stories about all the people, places and culture that make Colorado Springs an amazing place to live. And he’s especially stoked when exploring new places in the Springs, Colorado and beyond. Watch for him hiking, running or mountain biking the local trails with his wife and kids.

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