If we could just find a way to preserve the Food & Wine Classic excitement in Aspen this weekend! This also is a time when we are hearing even more of the latest “foodie” words — “locavore,” “sustainable,” “free range,” “foodshed” and “artisanal,” to name only a few.
Your grandmother might not know the words but definitely would know their meaning! Her chickens were free-range, the cheesemaker was nearby in town, locavore and foodshed were the ingredients she sourced locally for family meals, and being sustainable was, well, just farming smart. It is not anything more than adding descriptive words to what has been well-known in past generations of your very own family.
This growing and increased awareness of food is wonderful because not only is it good for community, but it is good for health. When produce has to travel great distances, there is something lost on this journey to your plate. Nutrients are lost rapidly, as is the original depth of flavor.
Fresh produce, picked right from the garden, is not available for many, yet we should know the difference. Being able to savor a fresh-picked tomato, which is still warm from the sun, will change taste buds forever. Seek out the freshest seasonal produce available to you and those chefs who also appreciate this difference.
You also will acquire that foodie level for taste and will want the seasonal best.
An Aspen chef who savors this freshness is Robert McCormick, executive chef at The Little Nell’s Element 47 restaurant. To achieve this fresh level for food, he sources from all regions of our valley.
Here, the peak growing season for produce seems to start around the July 1. In order to maintain a year-round pantry, there are cheeses, meats and many other nearby artisanal products. The seasonal menu is ever-changing, and this provides flavorful variety. Eating seasonally and using local artisans historically is how we relied on a steady food supply in the past.
An example of this over Food & Wine weekend is that Element 47 utilizes some of this “first of the season” produce from a variety of local farms. Field greens, herbs, green garlic and spring onions come from Rendezvous Farm in Crawford. Then we have wild asparagus, stinging nettles and wild watercress from Rain Crow Farm near Paonia.
McCormick also assists some of our Food & Wine celebrity chefs by sourcing those ingredients they needed for this weekend.
“Several other guest chefs: Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, John Besh, Alex Stupak, Jeff Mosher, Hugh Acheson, Laura Werlin and Josh Wesson will be utilizing various greens, herbs, cheese and produce from our local growers and farmers,” McCormick said, noting that The Little Nell is partnering with them for a variety of different culinary events over the weekend. “Field greens, baby greens, fresh herbs, Avalanche Creamery cheese, Milagro Ranch beef and Louis Swiss Bakery breads are just a few examples of the local goods showcased in the Food & Wine Classic.’’
The edible herb gardens at Element 47 are not only a part of fresh culinary efforts but also feature the likes of a lovely nighttime White Hillside Garden, an infinity wall garden with the striking backdrop of evergreen topiaries.
These are all designed and installed by Busy Beavers Gardening, with its head gardener, Arabella Beavers. The Edible Herb Garden was with mutual involvement between McCormick and the landscape designer. This provides herbs and edible floral beauty such as nasturtium, pansy, marigold and viola. Delicious herbs are blended in the overall composition using chives, basil, oregano, sage and thyme. Because of this being near the Element 47 kitchens, the staff is able to pick fresh herbs and flowers on a daily basis. This shows how plantings can be sustainable and beautiful, as well. These gardens have been developing over the past three years and keep improving with each growing season.
Thursday night at the top of the mountain was the best of the new chefs event, celebrating some of our own region’s food. Carbondale’s Crystal River Meat’s grass-fed lamb was presented by New York chef David Chang, and Wagu beef from Emma Farms was the feature at The Little Nell’s station.
According to McCormick, the best secret ingredient is to strive constantly to make the culinary creations creative and include the use of fresh seasonal food.
He added, “Those hardworking people on the farms and ranches are often unnoticed. They deserve to have their names shared on the front lines. What they provide to us writes the menus. Food & Wine weekends are a celebration for food and a way to showcase everyone.”
Next Sunday, we will see what a few of our local farms and ranches are growing for us this season.
Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is Farmsfinest.com, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at firstname.lastname@example.org.