Food Matters: Mexican perspective shapes authentic midday menu at Aspen’s Bosq
BOSQ AspenMexican lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Après snacks: 3 to 4:30 p.m. Dinner/bar menus at 5:30 p.m. 312 S. Mill St. 970-710-7299 bosqaspen.com
The blowtorch incident made chef Barclay Dodge nervous.
Juan Pablo Leon had apprenticed at Bosq two summers ago with owner Dodge, so there was a certain level of trust when the Mexico native returned to the kitchen this spring. Still, it was alarming to watch Leon set fire to $200 worth of dried chile peppers in a rondeau pan on the stovetop—on purpose.
“The whole thing went up in flames,” Dodge says, incredulous at the memory. “This is not a Western-style, classic culinary technique, how I was trained.”
It got weirder: Leon dumped 5 gallons of saltwater into the pan to extinguish the blaze. The charred chiles soaked for two days, while Leon disappeared to focus on his main cooking gig at a local resort. Meanwhile, he told Dodge not to worry.
Upon return, Leon sparked concern when he set onions and garlic directly on a gas burner. Dodge almost couldn’t believe it: the vegetables turned jet-black.
“Again, that’s not our technique. You would never burn garlic because it’s so bitter,” Dodge explains. “He just burnt it!”
Leon showed Dodge how to rub the submerged chile skins and skim away the prohibitively spicy seeds that floated to the top. After straining the fragrant liquid (saved for other uses), they puréed the remaining “mud-like” chile sludge with those charred aromatics, oregano and other spices to create a thick, inky paste. Miraculously, it tasted robust and nuanced in a way that didn’t quite make sense.
Now Dodge uses this recado negro—an ancestral ingredient that is to Mexico’s Yucatán what curry paste is to India—dehydrated as a fine dust to season house-fried tortilla chips. A pantry staple for Bosq’s new, all-Mexican lunch, conceived alongside Leon and fellow visiting chef Lorena Valenzuela, recado negro appears in other dishes, too. However, diners won’t see it listed on the menu.
“The only word we have that is a Mayan name is sikil p’ak—and I keep going back and forth on that one,” Dodge shares about the earthy pumpkinseed dip, another Leon recipe.
While these processes may seem complex, Bosq’s lunch menu reads simple. As a veteran Aspen restaurateur, Dodge understands that to steer successfully away from classic—some might say mundane—midday fare such as chicken sandwiches and kale salads, his Mexican tacos, tostadas and ceviche must be approachable in their authenticity.
Still, these are not American-Mexican restaurant dishes. Bosq’s chicken pibil—swapping poultry for the traditional cochinita (suckling pig)—is slow-cooked according to ancient Yucatán practice. The chicken is rubbed with achiote paste, wrapped in banana leaves and buried in a roasting pan layered with hay and biodynamic soil from Brook and Rose LeVan’s farm, Sustainable Settings, in Carbondale.
“We’re, like, cooking it ‘under ground,’” Dodge notes. “The organic matter comes through in the flavor. It’s wild.”
The spiced pibil is served as a taco filling. Two other daily taco options might include braised short rib on a whole fried egg, “chilaquiles”-style; lamb; or soft-shell crab. Shrimp aguachile is served in a chilled broth of carrot jus sweetened slightly by rhubarb and topped with a tangle of baby watercress and ring of edible flowers framing the inner edge of the bowl. A bubbly skillet starter of rajas (the other Spanish term on the menu, meaning “strips”) is an addictive mélange of farmers’ market-roasted poblano peppers simmered in garlic cream with goat cheese. Shredded zucchini pico de gallo tops quesadillas oozing gooey Oaxacan cheese.
The driving force behind Dodge’s recent endeavor is Bosq’s “masa program,” which began in earnest June 1. Tortillas for tacos, tostadas and chips are made in-house from heirloom Oaxacan corn (blue, red, yellow), imported in 55-pound sacks, ground into flour using a volcanic-stone molino, acidified into masa and pressed by hand thanks to chile liquid leftover from the recado negro process. It’s so much work—and tortilla items so popular, exhausting 110 pounds of corn every 10 or so days—that Dodge hired an El Salvadoran woman, Esperanza, as a prep cook whose main task is to flatten hundreds of tortillas per shift.
Leon and Valenzuela—both from the Yucatán capital of Mérida, where they plan to launch a popup called NoSu (Norte Sud) after wrapping a six-week engagement with Dodge this weekend—also draw inspiration for what Dodge calls “cultural recipes” from time spent in Puebla, near Mexico City. A regular visitor to the culinary metropolis, Dodge also once lived in and cooked just north of Playa del Carmen, where he first encountered recado negro. Together the chefs marry nostalgic Mexican techniques with valley produce sourced from Sustainable Settings, the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, Wild Mountain Seeds, and Two Roots Farm, much of it via Farm Runners delivery service. This is why a Bosq taco might be topped with lamb’s quarters, stinging nettle or spicy wild mustard flower.
Such elements of surprise are invigorating. When I ask our server if we might sample just a spoonful of guacamole, she gently informs us that every avocado is smashed fresh to order. We pause—do we really want to fill up on dip when so many other dishes stoke our appetite? Ultimately we go for it, and the decision pays dividends. We find a liquid center of tomatillo salsa hidden within the mass of chunky guac, and marvel at the totally unique flavor of whole mint leaves (plus cilantro and parsley) tossed in olive oil and salt as a crowning garnish.
Despite all of this, Dodge stresses that his Mexico foray—“Bosq Without Borders”—is limited to lunch, available until 3 p.m. Dinner showcases the broader global flavors for which he’s known.
“I don’t want to become a Mexican restaurant,” Dodge says, without a hint of irony. “We’re Bosq.”