Food Matters: Mountain town sweetness for a crucial cause

Amanda Rae


Response Aspen assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault via:

• 24-hour bilingual crisis hotline

• Emergency and long-term shelter

• Court and medical assistance

• Adult and teen support groups

• Counseling

• Referrals to partner agencies

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The second the words tumble out of my mouth, I realize I’m setting myself up for an awkward exchange. My chiropractor’s response confirms this.

“Why don’t you feel comfortable seeing that practitioner, if you don’t mind me asking?” she says, having suggested him as a replacement when she moves out of the valley. I’m lying facedown on a treatment table while she kneads a stubborn, twisted hamstring to sweet release.

I swallow hard. “Uh, I have a permanent restraining order against his brother-in law, who beat me up pretty badly a couple of years ago,” I reply, in one long sigh. “I can’t go there. I hear he’s a great physical therapist, though.”

Speaking my story goes more smoothly each time, but the process drags up remembrance of details that shift my mood to a dark place. The searing joint infection has long subsided, the bursa shrunken to reveal a typical bony elbow. The 30-ish bruises mottling each limb of my body are but a bad memory. I don’t tense up anymore when the UPS man knocks on my door. Emotionally, I feel restored. It only took 22 months.

Small town be damned, I share my experience because, unfortunately, the more I tell it, the more stories I hear in return. Turns out that all it takes for others to open up is admitting you’re part of the 1 in 4 statistic, too. So many of us are dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault in some way. The problem is not going away.

That’s one reason why I ventured to Telluride last Saturday during the first truly epic snowstorm of the season. Having missed the annual Chocolate Classic at the Hotel Jerome on Feb. 7 due to work obligations in Denver, I made the slippery jaunt over the Dallas Divide to attend the 23rd annual Chocolate Lovers’ Fling.

Like the February fundraiser for Response Aspen, the Chocolate Lovers’ Fling is the biggest benefit event for the nonprofit San Miguel Resource Center (SMRC), whose mission is to eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault in the Telluride community. This year the Mountain Village Conference Center ballroom morphed into a pseudo-Studio 54, drawing guests in polyester suits and go-go boots to sample chocolate confections from about 10 local chefs and groove atop an illuminated dancefloor.

“I think that (in) towns like Aspen and Telluride, we have this false vision of a snow globe or Shangri-La—a preconceived notion that nothing bad can happen here, everyone is living their best life,” says Sutton Errico, SMRC board VP and event chair for the second year. “I have to remind (people) that these are the statistics; these things happen whether you want to admit it or not. Our local après-ski watering holes have the same issues as a nightclub in Denver. Just because you’re not out till 2 (a.m.) doesn’t mean people aren’t getting date-raped and assaulted. We have to make sure that people understand what services are available.”

In Telluride, SMRC runs a regional crisis hotline and offers support services for multiple communities. (Response Aspen does the same: call 970-925-SAFE anytime.) The organization also is a leader on raising awareness.

“We start prevention education in grade school,” Errico notes. “We are a resource for those in crisis mode, but eliminating something in our culture, that’s our number one goal.”

One of the shortest and darkest months of winter, February can be especially isolating, especially in a remote ski town in the Rocky Mountains. When I wrote about this topic in my “Food Matters” column for the Feb. 20, 2014, edition of the Aspen Times Weekly—just a few months into the gig—I could not foresee that I’d become an outspoken advocate years later.

In that 2014 column, Chocolate Classic participating chefs speak on record about sisters, friends and relatives who’ve suffered. Chillingly, it was only a matter of time before I would use these pages to detail the aftermath of my own crisis (“Power Up,” April 21, 2016).

Victim or not, everyone is affected in some way. As a young girl, fifth-generation Telluride local Errico watched her mother on call for the SMRC helpline.

“You’d hear that cellphone ring: someone was in a bad spot and something had happened,” she recalls. “It didn’t really hit home until I was in college. I was a member of a sorority, in a leadership position, and I remember seeing sorority sisters having things happen to them. I’m not a survivor, but I know so many people who are. I hope that one day that people stop being a–holes to each other and we don’t have to deal with this problem.”

National consciousness is on high alert, thanks to scandals unveiled in the Hollywood film industry, USA Gymnastics, and West Point (reports of sexual assault doubled over the last school year at the military academy). Women (and some men) are speaking up en masse, which might bode well toward one day erasing the stigma of speaking out, in a town small or large.

“People have a really hard time being upfront, open, and honest,” Errico shares. “Everyone knows everyone. It’s easy to keep things hidden.”

A sweet ending for the Chocolate Lovers’ Fling in Telluride, though: Newcomer chef Ashley Jenkin clinched the People’s Choice Award for Black Iron Kitchen & Bar at the Madeline Hotel. Jenkin wowed the crowd with the “Disco Sally”: A chocolate tulip cup filled with salted dark chocolate mousse and brown-butter caramel, topped with dark chocolate pastry crunch dusted with edible gold and silver. (Her Studio 54 centerpiece was made entirely of chocolate, as well.)

It was no huge shock to me and fellow Aspenites in attendance; the former pastry chef of Eight K at the Viceroy Snowmass (now executive chef Will Nolan’s sous chef at Black Iron in Telluride) once snagged the “most scrumptious” ribbon at the Chocolate Classic in Aspen and won consecutive first-place titles at The Little Nell’s Australia Day contests for pavlova in 2014 and meat pie in 2015. Though Nolan doesn’t have a budget for an official pastry chef position at Black Iron, technically, Jenkin crafts the dessert menu.

“We love it here; the people here are awesome,” Jenkin enthuses. “We’re gonna try to elevate things; I’m doing some similar-style desserts. We were at Viceroy from beginning to end, so our menus complement each other well.”

Aspen Times Weekly

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