Millennial chefs join the veterans at Heritage Fire
The third weekend of June truly launches the summer season in Aspen and the valley. This is when the town fills up for the foodie event of the year: The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
But about 9 miles west in a town called Snowmass Village, a different kind of event has taken shape. Now in its fourth year, Heritage Fire is put on by Cochon555 at Snowmass Base Village. A celebration of whole animal cookery, this occasion brings more than 100 chefs, farmers, sommeliers, distillers, and bartenders together to serve up 3,200-plus pounds of meat, fish, fowl and vegetables and a significant amount of wines, craft beers, artisan ciders and hand-crafted cocktails. This is a barbecue session on steroids, and it falls on Saturday, June 16, this year.
Now, I’m no Amanda Rae. My foodie knowledge, while growing because of events like this, is not pro-status. However, Heritage Fire has had a special place in my heart since day one. I got to work it the summer it debuted in Snowmass when I was at Aspen Magazine, which is the event’s media sponsor. In the years after its debut, I attended simply to enjoy, which I did immensely. At this point, I would have to say this is one of my favorite happenings of the summer, and quite possibly the whole year, in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Cochon555 has events all over the country. For this particular one, many of the participating chefs work and live in Colorado. Most are older men who’re particularly well established in the food world. However, there are a few chefs of the younger generation who have made a splash as of late. Adam Vero, the executive chef at Hearth & Dram in Denver and Nate Singer, the head butcher at Blackbelly Market in Boulder, are both 31 years old and have been in the restaurant business since a young age.
Vero took over at Hearth & Dram in April after working at TAG Restaurant Group’s Guard and Grace and Mister Tuna. Even though he just got started in his new job, he’s already made some significant changes to the lunch and dinner menus at the restaurant located behind Union Station. One of the first changes to the menu Vero made was adding a Colorado rack of lamb, which, coincidentally, is the animal he’ll be cooking Saturday night at Heritage Fire.
Vero and his Hearth & Dram team will break down a whole lamb, one provided by Heritage Fire, into separate dishes for attendees to sample. The back legs of the animal will be slow-cooked, the racks marinated separately, and the front quarters and the neck slow braised.
This is Vero’s third year participating in Heritage Fire, which he says is one of his favorite events of the year. He loves it because of the camaraderie among the chefs.
“Everyone is working together, not competing. There’s good, open conversation, and it’s fun to interact with everyone,” he said.
Vero is one of the youngest executive chefs participating at Heritage Fire, but he said he hasn’t found age to be a big deal in his industry.
“I know the majority of chefs from Denver doing the event, and most of them are a little older than I am,” he said. “But I’ve never really thought I need to prove myself because I’m young. I’ve learned from guys my age, as well as people that are older than me.”
Singer helped start Blackbelly Market — a catering business, food truck, and farm — in Boulder six years ago. When Blackbelly turned into a full-service restaurant in 2014-15, chef and owner Hosea Rosenberg called Singer back to help launch the meat program. Today, Blackbelly is Boulder’s only whole-animal artisanal butcher shop and sole independent retailer licensed to make and sell its own cured and fermented meats. Blackbelly breaks down the whole animal, not wasting a single part of it. They also work with a limited number of farms to ensure quality. Singer said in one week they will break down two whole pigs, two whole lambs, and a half or whole cow. At Heritage Fire, Singer will spit roast sirloin steaks over coals, adding a sumac spice and porcini powder to give it lots of Colorado flavors. The beef is from Carter Country Meats out of Wyoming, which is one of the main ranches they work with and one that Singer thinks raises some of the best beef in the world.
Singer has attended Heritage Fire since it started in 2014. He loves the event because it’s a great chance to connect with the “animal people,” as he puts it. Working in the hospitality industry, Singer said it’s typically all about serving others. This event allows chefs to appreciate their own work and also get together and see what friends and colleagues are working on.
“It’s so hard for us all to slow down and gather in one space, but when we can actually take that time we can appreciate what we do and what others do and put on an awesome party for the people,” he said.
Singer said a high-end weekend like the Food & Wine Classic obviously requires seasoned and older chefs, but he does think there’s been a passing of the torch to the younger generation as of late.
“Millennials come in with inspiration, trying new things based on what we learned from our mentors,” he said. “If you have a good mentor, they’ll want to put you in the spotlight.”
No matter what generation you belong to or how food savvy you may or may not be, make sure to check out Singer and Vero’s stations at Heritage Fire this weekend. I’m quite certain they will not disappoint.
Barbara Platts could never be a vegetarian. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.