Food Matters: A mocktail pairing dinner serves a sober message
This Week's NibblesCHANUKAH TREATS On the sixth night of Chanukah, Dec. 7, Aspen Jewish Congregation holds a special Friday evening Shabbat service with Rabbi Segal at Aspen Chapel, followed by music by Shir Bliss Band, crispy potato latkes, and Sweet Coloradough jelly doughnuts (symbolic of the oil that burned miraculously for eight days in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem). BYO menorah for a community lighting ceremony. 6 p.m., 970-925-8245, aspenjewish.org “DOLPHINS DON’T EAT DONUTS” …so kids shouldn’t, either, says Snowmass Village-based author-artist Julianne Stokes (“ABC Healthy”), who unveils her second illustrated children’s book at the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus on Dec. 8 at 4-6 p.m. “I talk to my children (ages 10, 5, and 3) about how the food they eat affects the way they feel and how it can make them stronger to do the activities they love,” Stokes says. “The earlier they are exposed to healthy interactions about food, the (better).” 315 E. Main St., 970-544-2499 HAO ABOUT ASIAN FARE? On Dec. 10, Jimmy’s Bodega becomes Hao House: Far East Street Food, a winterlong popup in partnership with chefs David “The Ramen Monster” Wang and Kiyong Kim. Dishes will include Taiwanese beef noodles (pictured), Korean bulgogi and bibimbap, smashed cucumber salad, and Szechuan wontons to start, served alongside Asian beer, sake, wine, and craft cocktails. Special ramen nights will begin in January. Open 4-10 p.m. daily, Hao (“good” in Chinese) House is a non-reservation restaurant—walk-ins only. 307 S. Mill St., 970-710-2182 RAW DEAL AT JIMMY’S Meanwhile, Bodega’s raw bar and signature dishes move to Jimmy’s: An American Restaurant, on a revamped menu launching Dec. 6. Depending on the fate of building permits along the Mill Street mall, Bodega may return for summer 2019….
Pizza and beer. Sushi and sake. Steak and cabernet. Caviar and Champagne. Ribs and whiskey. Oysters and martinis. Chocolate cake and Irish coffee. Chef Chris Randall will pass on all of these classic pairings—he got sober in 2009, two years before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley by way of Louisiana. Now when out to dinner or socializing with friends at a bar, he finds enticing booze-free beverage options lacking: soda, tea, juice, water. Maybe nonalcoholic beer or a Moscow mule, hold the vodka.
“Every restaurant has a version of a mule: ginger beer, rosemary syrup, and lemon juice,” he says. “While tasty, it doesn’t pair with everything. It got me thinking that it would be fun to do a dinner that was wildly creative on the food and wildly creative on paired beverages…to provide some options and awareness to the things that us food-service people face on a day-to-day basis: addiction, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, all things that make it hard to live.”
It’s no secret that chefs, cooks, bartenders, dishwashers, servers and others in the grueling hospitality industry are most afflicted with these issues. Statistics peg food-service and accommodations workers—who represent the largest sector nationwide—as having the highest rates of alcohol and substance abuse. Here in Aspen, the high cost of living combined with wages that don’t quite match an economic need creates a real struggle.
“The financial burden is stressful,” Randall notes. “We’re pushing ourselves for perfection and hopefully settling on excellence. That comes at a price: stress, anxiety. It’s how you handle the stress: at the end of the night, people get their shift drink then run to the bar. They blow off steam, and that includes tons of alcohol and recreational substances. It’s a mean cycle, and it’s in every restaurant culture, whether a 3 Michelin in France or the pizza pub on the corner.”
Shane Murray, a cook at White House Pizza in Carbondale, who is also in recovery, shared Randall’s frustration about finding drinks for non-drinkers. So together they brainstormed the concept behind “Proofless,” a seven-course dinner at the Cooking School of Aspen on Dec. 15. Each dish will be served with a nonalcoholic beverage showcasing unique ingredients. Hooch bartender Pat Flanigan, for one, will craft mocktails incorporating Elevated Elixirs (Colorado-made kombucha, yerba mate, and sparkling potions) and Seedlip, “the world’s first nonalcoholic distilled spirit.”
A handful of Aspen chefs of varying constitutions are joining Randall and Murray in the cause: Chefs Matt Zubrod and Lucas Rocca from element 47 at The Little Nell are donating Emma Farms wagyu beef. Braden Gastineau, formerly of Clark’s Market, will serve brown-butter sunchoke soup with pancetta. Randall, executive chef of Rustique Bistro, is preparing porchetta using rare Mangalista pork to pair with a mango-habanero kombucha concoction, as well as seared scallops with bottarga alongside spirulina yerba mate. Neil Stiles will sous-vide apple for a fruity dish with gorgonzola to enjoy with fizzy beet-rosehip soda. Murray will make milk-braised rabbit tacos to accompany a coconut probiotic aperitif infused with cilantro and lime. Draper Horton, a Rustique cook, is constructing millefeuille tiramisu.
Tickets are $125 (a portion of which is tax-deductible) to benefit Aspen Strong, Lift-Up food pantry, and the Aspen Homeless Shelter—all organizations that provide valuable resources for folks in need.
“Lift-Up helps everybody with food pantry issues—the economically disparaged prep cooks and dishwashers who can’t afford to feed their families, to get groceries to supplement what they’re (earning),” Randall explains. “MindSpring—very active in the mental-health community in the valley—is also giving us support, just to be part of it.”
Aspen Strong founder Christina King calls “Proofless” an important call to action. “In a larger mental-health evaluation for our whole valley—supported by public health departments—there (is) a desire to have more ‘dry’ events,” she says.
Randall is careful to add that it’s not about preaching a sober lifestyle but fostering wellness within the community.
“Sometimes it’s a good choice to not have that fourth glass of wine at the end of the night,” he says. “(Mocktails provide) an option so you’re not drinking a Diet Coke at the bar. Maybe you’re mixing a nonalcoholic beverage in between your beers so you’re able to drive home or wake up early to take care of your kids.”
Randall even contacted Nashville celebrity chef-restaurateur Sean Brock, sober two years, asking for advice, since Brock led a “Zero Proof” dinner in Portland in September with teetotaler Andrew Zimmern from “Bizarre Foods” and Michael Solmonov, a multi-James Beard Award-winning chef.
“He’s on board with what we’re doing,” Randall confirms. “Other notable restaurants—Eleven Madison Park in New York City, Noma in Copenhagen—now have nonalcoholic pairings on the menu. It’s becoming a movement that’s gaining popularity.”
Hooch Aspen has a mocktail menu already, and nonalcoholic quaffs are created with panache at other watering holes in town, such as J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome. The new EMP Winter House seasonal popup at Chefs Club Aspen will launch next weekend with a mocktail menu that includes “Paradise City” (grapefruit, passion fruit, vanilla, cream) and “Peter Piper” (pineapple, black pepper, lime, white balsamic).
“Everyone should have the opportunity to drink thoughtfully and creatively conceived drinks,” says EMP co-owner Will Guidara. “Cocktails, wine, beer, coffee, tea, mocktails—they all deserve the same amount of focus. I think that’s important to be a great restaurant for this generation.”
For his part, Randall hopes to create a more healthful environment among his “pirate family of cooks” and the community beyond. Just as when he moved here, “Aspen is all about people trying to make better choices in their lives.”
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