Not many people know this, but before Jimmy Rosen started scrutinizing startup business plans for a venture capital firm, he was busy prepping food.

Rosen, a partner at Durham-based Intersouth Partners, spent the mid-1990s as sous chef at Durham restaurant Pop’s. Rosen had taught himself to cook as a kid in New York City and got his first cooking job at 16, learning the craft over the next three summers in professional kitchens.

Durham’s rise as a food town is not lost on Rosen, who still keeps active in the kitchen, albeit his home kitchen and not professional ones. And to Rosen, Durham’s emerging restaurant reputation is important to the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. After all, Southern Living magazine has named Durham the South’s “tastiest Town.”

“Great food draws people, it helps people connect – especially entrepreneurs,” Rosen said.

Rosen, who first came to Durham in 1987 as a Duke University undergraduate, traces Durham’s rise as a technology hub to about 10 years ago. By then, people were putting 9/11 behind them and the dust from the bursting of the tech bubble had started to settle.

At that time, Intersouth had just closed a $200 million fund to back seed and early stage companies. Hatteras Venture Partners and Pappas Ventures also had money. And after the “vaporware” of tech investments from the tech bubble, Rosen said the tangible nature of life science investments became more attractive.

Intersouth made a calculated move to relocate in 2004 to downtown Durham, becoming an anchor tenant on the renovated American Tobacco Campus. Rosen said the site was ideal because the location is attractive to both investors and entrepreneurs. It was also symbolic. Tobacco was Durham’s old economy. Investing in technology and life science represented Durham’s new economy. At Intersouth, there’s a running internal joke about the firm’s location in a renovated tobacco plant.

“Here we are venture investors, we’ve invested in a number of oncology companies,” Rosen said. “We’re trying to cure cancer where cancer was invented.”

The food part of the entrepreneurial stew came later but it’s still a crucial ingredient for Durham’s economic development, Rosen said. Durham owes its downtown revitalization in part to the variety of restaurants and bars on and around Main Street. Entrepreneurs are drawn to these places that become the scene of what Rosen calls “collisions,” accidental meetings where one entrepreneur meets another and shares an idea or maybe sparks one.

Intersouth focuses on making investments throughout the Southeast but Rosen says that Durham stands out among its Southern peers in offering that collision culture.

“The first 15 years I was here, the Durham revitalization came in fits and starts but it never caught fire,” Rosen said. “In the last decade, it has.”