How I spent my summer (non)vacation: 162 pages deep in making ‘The Aspen Cookbook’ |

How I spent my summer (non)vacation: 162 pages deep in making ‘The Aspen Cookbook’

Amanda Rae
Food Matters


“The Aspen Cookbook”

Curated and edited by Amanda Rae Busch

Illustrated by Julia Bridgforth

Produced by YPN Aspen

Fall 2020


Early on Tuesday, Sept. 2, I return home from a limb-numbing bike ride to the Maroon Bells. A hot shower doesn’t seem to warm me up, so I focus on preparing a nourishing breakfast instead. One bite in, I’m smacked by déjà-vu.

Suddenly, it’s springtime, another chilly morning before splitboarding up a snow-covered Aspen Mountain during quarantine. That was around the last time I prepared Local Coffeehouse’s signature Black Rice Porridge, which happens to be the very first recipe I tested for “The Aspen Cookbook.”

In one spoonful I realize that I just spent the entire summer, literally, curating and editing the cookbook, which features more than 100 recipes from 69 local chefs and restaurants. Already it’s getting cold enough outside that my instinct spurs me to cook this creamy, wholesome dish once again.

Remember when restaurants closed abruptly in March and dining out was illegal for the next two months? That’s when YPN Aspen launched this project. A subcommittee of the Aspen Board of Realtors, the group of young professionals sought to create a socially distanced fundraiser to bolster our restaurant industry. They hired me as editor of the cookbook and set up a grant program to collect proceeds from book sales and charitable donations. Together we hoped to gather 40, maybe 50 recipe submissions.

As “Food Matters” columnist for seven years, I made it a personal mission to exceed that goal. I called, emailed, texted and begged chefs and restaurateurs in person (masked up, natch) for weeks. Some called back. Others sent pictures of handwritten recipes. Tensions were high. More than a few proprietors broke down in a panic, sharing that they weren’t sure if the shutdown would kill their business.

Aspen pulled through, though, and 2020 was the summer of patio dining. What began as a solution to social distancing protocol, when restaurants were ordered to cut indoor seating to 50% maximum capacity, evolved into a refreshed, vibrant dining landscape.

Piñon’s owner Rob Mobilian told me he had the most profitable July since the restaurant opened in 1988, due in large part to the restaurant’s new patio downstairs, on the street. Many others echoed this sentiment. On the few nights I did dine out, reservations were hard to get and restaurants were consistently busy. My poor service industry pals on the front lines made no effort to hide their exhaustion in dealing with hordes of summer-vacationers-turned-residents.

On the heels of this turnaround, YPN Aspen and I are about to publish a 162-page, full-color feast, “The Aspen Cookbook.” I’m excited to share the enthusiasm I experienced while creating this book of favorites, which showcases brunch, soup, salad, starters, main dishes, desserts, cocktails and even a dog treat! Many recipes are vegetarian (or easily adapted) and all were created and tested here at 7,908 feet above sea level.

The collection presents recipes for every mood, situation and skill level, from party-ready pico de gallo and guacamole by 520 Grill (now Silverpeak Grill) and Paradise Bakery’s simple banana chocolate chip muffins (since 1976!) to the more advanced Colorado rack of lamb au jus from Cache Cache and theatrical Escargots Candle by Velvet Buck at the St. Regis Aspen Resort. I’m putting the finishing touches on the book, which we plan to send to press soon. Thank you to everyone who has supported our vision thus far. Reserve your copy in support of local restaurants at

Meanwhile, the atmosphere of Aspen’s downtown core changed once barricades and café tables went up on sidewalks where there were none before. Call it a long-overdue facelift. But now that the weather is cooling, conversations have shifted to how to sustain this summer momentum. More adjustments are inevitable; many restaurateurs are exploring heating options to continue operating outdoor seating.

Originally, YPN Aspen thought to create a cookbook because Aspenites weren’t able to eat out at favorite restaurants at all. What does one do when the social fabric of Aspen is woven around meals and drinks? We decided to bring beloved recipes to the people. As we approach another uncertain season, connection may be more important than ever.

For me, 2020 was a summer of feasting on Aspen food, almost all of it made in my tiny apartment kitchen. I ate really well, and shared comforting, familiar flavors with many friends. Heading into fall and winter, I hope you enjoy “The Aspen Cookbook” and feel empowered to do the same.

Let’s celebrate the power of food to bring us together, whether out at a local restaurant or sitting around our own dining table.

This column’s publication marks nine years since Amanda Rae’s first visit to Aspen — 9/10/11 — during a seven-month road trip across America. Her first hour in town was spent at the inaugural Aspen Mac & Cheese Festival, what a day!