Nightly Special: Chefs Club now features great chefs old and new
January 12, 2017
REBRANDING can be tricky — in the restaurant world, especially. To change the name of an establishment (and, presumably, introduce a new chef at the helm) is to start from scratch. On the other hand, sticking with the status quo can create an illusion that nothing much has changed, even if a new chef is toiling behind the scenes.
The new-and-improved Chefs Club combines the best of both. Though now without ‘Food & Wine’ (the company launched the venue in 2012 to showcase the magazine's annual list of Best New Chefs in America and is still a partner), the restaurant inside the St. Regis Aspen Resort retains the first part of its original name. Which makes sense, as "Chefs Club" most accurately describes the concept: A seasonal menu featuring nearly two-dozen signature dishes from great chefs across culinary eras — Batali, Boulud and Ripert included — as well as up-and-comers.
"It's as if the restaurant was a DJ, playing the greatest chefs from around the world," says chef Bryce Shuman, who decamps to Chefs Club Aspen this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 13-14, for the first guest cooking engagement. (Indeed, many great chefs begin as Best New Chefs, and Shuman (2015) got a taste of Aspen last summer when he collaborated with other top toques during the Food & Wine Classic.)
The visit comes at an opportune time for the former executive chef of Betony in New York City — Shuman closed his Michelin-starred spot abruptly at the end of December 2016. In a sense, then, this weekend's event is a revival of sorts — a pop-up restaurant within Aspen's original pop-up restaurant. Guided by Chefs Club Aspen executive chef-in-residence Todd Slossberg and team, Shuman will prepare a special tasting menu highlighting Betony favorites with a Rocky Mountain twist.
First up: a warming concoction based on whatever Shuman finds available and inspirational when he arrives. "I like to start off by sipping a great broth, tea, or infusion — something hot," Shuman explains. "This changes all the time at [Betony] based on what's available. Sometimes it's mushroom or potato or a vegetable or meat—in essence, a consommé. It gets your body ready to receive food."
Next the Eleven Madison Park alum will present a sculptural salad of radicchio tardivo, the milder, curled-finger-shaped cousin of bitter radicchio, with roasted and steamed beets seasoned with vinegar and olive oil — the vegetables layered over a schmear of Robiola Bosina, a soft sheep's milk cheese.
"I like to spread the cheese on the bottom of plate, using it as a base for the roasted beets and then build the salad up from there," Shuman says. Fresh basil lends a bright, herbaceous bite to balance the radicchio tardivo.
Roasted duck comprises the main course, using fowl aged 10 days, which "dries out the skin and gives the meat a nice tanginess," Shuman says. Based on the chef's original squab dish, the bird is cooked alongside chestnuts and prunes; its bones, jus, and liver reduced into a rich sauce spiced with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and black pepper. The meat is plated simply with cognac-glazed prunes, the roasted chestnuts, and a crispy chestnut tuile, all of it showered with sweet fluff from raw chestnuts grated over a Microplane.
Shuman's signature dish on the regular Chefs Club menu will be offered in addition to the tasting menu (or as a dessert substitution): nutty, aged, alpine-style Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Wisconsin-based Uplands Cheese Company, cooked inside a baguette-style roll alongside alfalfa and red clover hay and served with fruit marmalade.
"Cheesemaker Andy Hatch is the type of guy who, if the cows aren't eating great grass, he's not gonna make cheese, he'll sell the milk," Shuman says. "I love the idea that the grass becomes the milk becomes the cheese, and that no matter what life throws at you, you do the right thing. We're honoring this by baking his cheese with the different types of grasses that the cows eat."
Shuman's tasting menu dessert ends the meal on a light note: citrus panna cotta with champagne espuma — "soft and creamy yet it sparkles," Shuman quips. Tarragon adds an energizing element. "I love using fresh herbs in places that might surprise you — basil in an otherwise winter salad. Tarragon and citrus is a natural pairing."
Fellow 2015 Best New Chef Zoi Antonitsas from Seattle is the second chef slated to cook in the Chefs Club Aspen kitchen later this winter. Until then, diners may sample two of her signature Greek dishes: charred octopus with orzo yiouvetsi, tomato, fennel, saffron and aioli nero or ras el hanout-crusted rack of lamb with feta, pistachio, and mint pesto.
This weekend, though, Shuman commands Chefs Club's gleaming open kitchen. "You're gonna see me sweating it out, but I'm relying on the team there to execute," the chef says, crediting Slossberg and culinary director Didier Elena, on board since Chefs Club Aspen launched. "That's what being a chef is all about: you teach, train, and share ideas, then you work with the team. Whenever you're in someone else's kitchen, it's a collaboration."
Just as Shuman is animated about the auspicious timing of his return — "This will be my first time in Aspen in its snow/winter glory…I'm excited to maybe get out on skis for the first time" — he's enthusiastic about how the Chefs Club formula serves the community here.
"It's an awesome opportunity for the people not just vacationing in Aspen but who live there year round," Shuman says. He's right, we're a lucky bunch. After all, how many Aspen-born restaurants have spawned offshoots in New York City, not the other way around?