Marge and Randy King have made entertaining around food preparation their off-the-job passion. Dan England / for BizWest

Cooking: An off-the-job passion

On the rare occasion that Randy King is at a barbecue and he isn’t cooking, he will eventually sidle over to the grill and start asking questions.

Many times, a few minutes later, King will have the spatula in his hand.

King doesn’t do that to be That Guy, the one who knows he’s better than anyone, even if it would be easy to think so. Randy’s wife Marge, who like Randy is 62, learned decades ago to stay away from the grill and focus her energies on the hours of prep work it takes for Randy to do his magic. And Randy will tell you, even when Marge warns him not to get too big of a head, that what he’s smoking, grilling or cooking is better than anyone’s (he describes a smoked meatloaf as “awesome”).

Randy takes the spatula, if it’s offered, because he loves to grill. He adores it. In fact, Randy lives on a golf course in Loveland, and he would much rather spend his weekends cooking, especially if it’s for others. He loves it because he’s spent years learning how to do it better than anyone else, and he loves watching their reactions when they bite into his food, and, most of all, he’s trying to restore the fading tradition of people gathering around a long meal, talking, drinking and eating.

“I love to sit down and cook with people and drink beer,” Randy said. “It’s so much different. It’s something our world doesn’t do anymore. The restaurant wants you in and out. They want to sell the seat again. You don’t have that problem here. You’re on my patio for the night.”

Randy, who ran King Construction and now owns Heavy Hummer LCC, a skid steer service, was born to cook. He grew up grilling with his parents, who cooked breakfast on a washing machine lid over a fire when they camped, which they did frequently. He was flipping burgers when he was 10. Their sons, Justin, 37, and Tyler, 34, learned how to cook outdoors in Boy Scouts (they’re both Eagle Scouts), and they grill as well.

Now Randy watches YouTube if he wants to learn how to cook something, talks to others and, though he rarely visits restaurants, gets ideas by going to places that serve food he won’t cook (he’s learning how to stuff burgers now after eating one at Cheeseburger In Paradise).

“You can’t be afraid to make a mistake,” he said. “I learn by trial and error.”

More men, such as Randy, prefer to cook in their house than you might think, said Michelle Krusmark, owner of the The Bottled Olive, an olive oil business. She opened in downtown Windsor two years ago and just opened a store at Centerra in Loveland.

Half her business, if not more, comes from men, she said, especially because they’re the ones who love to experiment. There are husbands who seem to want to stick to more traditional roles but can fall under Krusmark’s gentle prodding.

“There was one husband who looked like he was brought in by his toenails,” she said, “and by the end he was trying stuff. The wife came back in and told me ‘You have changed our lives. We’ve been married 30 years, and he loves to cook with me in the kitchen now.’ That’s the most rewarding part of it.”

Casey Eaton, owner of the Food Lab in Boulder, offers three-hour cooking classes for people who want to expand their repertoire of dinners they can make for their families, but if people want to go into the core of cooking and take her eight-week course, they don’t need any experience.

“I think people are intimidated by cooking in general, but that’s what is so good about it. They will call and say the only thing they’ve made is mac and cheese,” Eaton said. “That’s OK. A three-hour class is a great place to start. The more you do, the more you learn, and that inspires you to cook at home more.”

Eaton said many people also take a class to have fun.

“That’s our whole idea, is ‘Hey, cooking is fun and can be fun,’” she said.

Randy King’s setup isn’t complicated. He doesn’t have an outdoor kitchen and won’t spend much time in his house kitchen. He has a griller and a smoker. He bought a cheap smoker when he was learning the craft, and he’s since upgraded two times to a Memphis smoker and grill, which can run more than $5,000: That helps him cook food at the right temperature, which he believes is crucial, without a lot of babysitting it, as he also likes to act as bartender, not just cook. He does buy top ingredients, fish and meat — he’s on the search for a new Loveland butcher, in fact — but most of the good food he cooks comes from his knowledge, not his equipment.

“The high-end equipment doesn’t hurt,” King said, “but really, to get started is fairly inexpensive.”

Highcraft Builders in Fort Collins has been busy remodeling kitchens for those who love to cook and want to have a space that makes it easier for them. Sometimes people moving into a home want it remodeled, but other times, those with lifelong cooking hobbies can finally afford to build the kitchen they’ve always wanted. The company does other remodeling as well, but kitchens are a popular request.

“Once you get a mindset that you need new appliances, they never seem to fit, so you have to start modifying,” said Kira Koldeway, general manager of Highcraft Builders. “It really starts with a space and what it allows, and then we have to figure out the priorities and a budget.”

Highcraft also does a lot more rebuilding of the dining room and kitchen layout that was traditional for decades. The kitchen was a place to cook, and the dining room was a place to eat, but many clients want more of an open space, where everything, including the entertaining, takes place in the kitchen.

“You might see more of an island seating so people can sit and drink while the chef is preparing the meal,” Koldeway said. “The kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s where people spend most of their time. It’s now where people gather.”

King prefers the outdoors, even in the winter, but he wants people around when he cooks as well. That includes Marge, who he gives oodles of credit for her work preparing the meat ahead of time and for her talent for making “killer” desserts. They have fun throwing parties, cooking for others and eating what King comes up with next. Now if only he could find another butcher.

“Our freezer downstairs is full,” King said, and then he looked at Marge.

“Actually, it’s dwindling,” he said and laughed.

On the rare occasion that Randy King is at a barbecue and he isn’t cooking, he will eventually sidle over to the grill and start asking questions.

Many times, a few minutes later, King will have the spatula in his hand.

King doesn’t do that to be That Guy, the one who knows he’s better than anyone, even if it would be easy to think so. Randy’s wife Marge, who like Randy is 62, learned decades ago to stay away from the grill and focus her energies on the hours of prep work it takes for Randy to do his magic. And Randy will tell you, even when Marge warns him not to get too big of a head, that what he’s smoking, grilling or cooking is better than anyone’s (he describes a smoked meatloaf as “awesome”).

Randy takes the spatula, if it’s offered, because he loves to grill. He adores it. In fact, Randy lives on a golf course in Loveland, and he would much rather spend his weekends cooking, especially if it’s for others. He loves it because he’s spent years learning how to do it better than anyone else, and he loves watching their reactions when they bite into his food, and, most of all, he’s trying to restore the fading tradition of people gathering around a long meal, talking, drinking and eating.

“I love to sit down and cook with people and drink beer,” Randy said. “It’s so…