Jesper Jonsson makes his living with his hands.
So when he almost lost a finger in a log-splitting accident in January, it threatened not only his career, but his livelihood.
Jesper, a chef with an international reputation, owns and operates The Bistro restaurant in Meeker with his wife, San.
“It was very scary,” San said of the accident that severely damaged Jesper’s left thumb. “They didn’t know if he was going to be able to keep it.”
“I was pretty darn close to losing this finger,” Jesper said, holding up his still bandaged thumb. “It didn’t completely get severed. It was just barely hanging on.”
Jesper has undergone two procedures on his thumb to repair the damage.
“It’s getting there,” Jesper said when asked how his thumb was healing. “They had to remove all the bone from the joint up and they put a pin in it.”
After 25 years of working around sharp instruments, this was Jesper’s first accident — and it didn’t happen on the job.
“Twenty-five years in the kitchen and he’s never had stitches,” San said. “He’s still throwing knives back and forth.”
Jesper said the injured thumb has been a hindrance in the kitchen, but it’s getting better.
“I’m right-handed and my right hand holds the knife, but the left hand kind of does more work, because it holds whatever you’re cutting or slicing,” Jesper said.
The accident happened on a Wednesday. Five days later, he was back in the kitchen to teach a cooking class offered through Colorado Northwestern Community College.
“I did some cooking that Monday,” Jesper said.
“But we had to postpone reopening (the restaurant) for two weeks,” San added. “We always shut down in January for family time. That’s why he had time to be out splitting wood.”
The restaurant reopened Feb. 4.
“I knew everything was going to be OK … because that’s what we do. When you’re a business owner, you don’t have a choice and you just toughen up and keep going,” San said.
It can be tough to get a restaurant up and running. This is the third year for Jesper and San to own and operate The Bistro, and like any start-up business owners, they’ve put their blood, sweat and tears — and money — into getting the restaurant established.
“Operating a restaurant in Meeker can be tough,” San said. “But that’s what we’ve done. We appreciate the community’s support. This isn’t your typical restaurant, and I find that to be a compliment. We’re not going anywhere. We have five kids. We have a house here. We’ve made this huge investment. We’re here to stay.”
Jesper and San have found support and encouragement from some of their fellow restauranteurs, mentioning people like Henry and Kris Arcolesse, who have Ma Famiglia, and Jason Steiner of Stage Stop Meat Market and Deli.
“They’ve been great to us,” Jesper said. “San and I like to call it owner-operators, because we all work really hard. Because of the hours, you usually hang out with people in that profession. That’s kind of our social circle. You help each other.”
San agreed, saying, “It’s just nice to have someone to talk to. They are so helpful and sincere. They want to help.”
When Jesper came to Meeker in 2003, he brought with him a world-class reputation, though he’s not one to brag about his culinary exploits.
“He’s classified as one of the world’s best Scandinavian chefs, and he won’t tell you about it,” San said. “But I’m just blown away by it. He’s cooked for some of the rich and the famous. He’s cooked for the who’s who in that world. We’re fortunate to have that here.”
Jesper was an executive chef for a catering company in New York when financier and investor Henry Kravis, owner of Westlands Ranch, brought him to Meeker.
“He was one of our clients,” Jesper said. “When they had special events, I would help out. Through that friendship, he asked if I wanted to come out and help in the summer. Last summer was maybe the eighth year I’ve helped out.”
Jesper and San met during one of those summers.
“I had a massage and skin care business and worked part time at Sleepy Cat (Ranch) tending bar and he walked in,” San said. “We started dating, but he was still going back and forth to New York. He moved here in December 2003.”
Between them, they have five children.
“I have two from a previous relationship and we have three kids together,” San said.
The children’s ages are 11, 10, 4, 2 and 16 months.
“And that’s it,” San said. “Just so everybody knows.”
Jesper was born in Denmark and lived there until he was 13, when he moved to France. He attended two culinary schools in the south of France.
“That’s where I did all my cooking and training,” he said.
Jesper worked as a chef in Denmark, Italy, France, Switzerland and Monaco, before moving to New York in 1992. He served as the executive chef for the Danish Foreign Ministry in New York.
And now he’s in Meeker.
“I always liked it out here,” said Jesper, who also cooks for Buffalo Horn Ranch.
And he brought his European-style of cooking with him.
“One thing for me that is crucial is having a very European view on food,” Jesper said. “You don’t come in, slop it down and leave. We want to make it a dining experience, enjoying a meal and the company you are with.”
He also taught his trade to San, who filled in more in the kitchen after Jesper injured his thumb.
“I’ve been very well trained by none other than yours truly,” she said.
Jesper and San described their restaurant as “casual finer dining.”
“My thought of food is outrageously simple. That’s what my cooking class was all about,” Jesper said. “We rely on the best ingredients we can get and we treat it well and we treat it with respect. The result, I think, is this is about as good as you can make it.”
Jesper takes pride in his cooking as well as the restaurant.
“We built this place from nothing,” he said. “You’ll find both of us here working.”
However, in the future, when there’s wood to be split …
“We’re definitely going to call someone else next time,” San said.
• • • • •
Kurt and Jackie Pozorski and daughter Kacey were scheduled to return to Meeker on Monday after spending the past 12 days at a hospital in Denver, where Kacey underwent intensive radiation treatments for a brain tumor.
“They will be glad to come home,” said Cindy Nelson, Kurt’s mother. “Kacey is doing really good. Kurt said her mood has been better. They will go back to Denver at the end of the month for Kacey to have an MRI, and if the doctor gives the OK, they will go to Minnesota to visit family and friends.”
Both Kurt and Jackie Pozorski are originally from Minnesota. A benefit dinner for Kacey is planned Saturday at The Bistro in Meeker.
• • • • •
The detour through Meeker, because of the rockslide on I-70 in the Glenwood Springs Canyon, resulted in a higher-than-usual amount of traffic going through town last week.
“I don’t know about actual counts. We obviously saw a big increase in traffic and most notably was the commercial motor vehicle traffic,” said Rio Blanco County Undersheriff Mike Joos. “We saw an increase in the normal speed of traffic. Monday, the guys said the average speeding violation was at or over 80.
“Thankfully, the weather cooperated, so we did not have any increases in traffic crashes. The biggest increase was the number of traffic-related complaints that came into our 911 center as well as State Patrol’s center in Craig. We had a lot of complaints about people driving too fast and passing violations. We had 15 traffic complaints in the three and a half days compared to seven for the entire month of February. Our deputies wrote 28 summonses on Highway 13 in the same timeframe, all for speed and illegal passing. For comparison, during the previous Monday through Thursday, we only wrote five summonses and that was countywide.”
Meeker Police Chief Bob Hervey added, “I can’t give you a traffic count, but I can tell you traffic increased significantly. Our traffic contacts were about double the previous week.”
• • • • •
While attending the annual banquet Friday honoring members of the Meeker Volunteer Fire and Rescue departments, wouldn’t you know it, the fire alarm sounded.
“That happens about every other year (during the banquet),” one of the volunteers was overhead saying.
The alarm turned out to be nothing serious, but the on-call members did what they always do — they responded.
Fire chief Steve Allen summed up the year’s activities, which included extinguishing a fire at Meeker Drugs that potentially threatened an entire downtown block, saying, “It’s a successful year when nobody got hurt.”
• • • • •
The future of the old Meeker Elementary School is uncertain. But one thing is certain: The 70-year-old building, while it has its problems, has been found to be structurally sound.
“Although it may seem that this report contains a litany of problems associated with the existing building, the overall structural condition of the Meeker Elementary School is considered generally good,” according to a report by Pattillo Associates Engineers of Glenwood Springs, conducted on behalf of the town of Meeker, which will take back the building and property once it is vacated by the school. “In our opinion, the building is worthy of preservation and improvement, depending to some extent on its intended occupation.”
• • • • •
The future of the old elementary school has generated quite a bit of response on the Herald Times Facebook page. Here’s a sampling of comments from readers when asked what should be done with the old elementary school:
“A new jail?”
“Maybe a skate park or something more for the kids to do.”
“What’s the hurry anyway? They let the old junior high school sit for years ‘condemned’ and then suddenly it was good enough to use as a middle school. And now apparently a kindergarten. Leave it set. They’ll come up with a use for it.”
“It gets crowded around town during hunting season, so extra parking would be ideal. It doesn’t mean the whole lot has to be used for parking.”
“A park … not a parking lot!”
“We have a park … parking lot sounds good. Especially during hunting season and also when there is court.
“How many parks does Meeker need? How about doing something for all the out-of-state hunters that return year after year and spend their money in Meeker.”
“Heck, throw a drilling rig on the site, and maybe strike some oil, or petro.”
“Or how about a movie theater?”
“A bowling alley.”
“A park with an asphalt or concrete path around it that could be ran, skated, or biked on. Add a basketball court because the kids love to play basketball there in the summer. Throw in a large parking and everybody is happy.”
“There is simply no need for a parking lot in that location. Complement the courthouse and main street with something aesthetically pleasing and that the entire community can enjoy.”
“Make something for our kids to entertain themselves with. They only have the swimming pool and nothing else to keep them out of trouble. With a little spit and polish the area would make a nice any-season ‘entertainment center.’”
“Many of our chamber members have expressed interest in converting it into a multi-use building to enhance our downtown area.”
“It would be a shame to tear it down — it is a beautiful building with all of that native stone. There has to be an acceptable use for it — maybe a community center in the ‘center’ of town.”
• • • • •
Horst and Sandy Rick, who live upriver, wonder when unsuspecting drivers will ever learn that the road closed sign means exactly what it says.
“We have people who drive up here and try to go through the road closed and get stuck,” Horst said. “It happens all the time. It’s a safety issue. The signs can be confusing. I could see how somebody could be confused. But it’s a hazard. There was a mom and two kids headed to Wyoming who went right through the road closed sign and immediately got stuck in the deep snow. It was a really cold night. There could have been a tragedy here.”
• • • • •
Dale Dunbar of White River Electric Association joined the turning-50 club last week. There’s another new member this week. Mike Joos, Rio Blanco County undersheriff, who turns the big 5-0 on Saturday.
Happy birthday, Mike. You’re one of us now, buddy.
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.