Aspen Times Weekly: Aprs ski in classic style
March 6, 2013
SNOWMASS VILLAGE – It’s no question that the American culture has developed an infatuation with the culinary industry over the last five years. Shows like “Iron Chef,” “Man v. Food,” “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” “No Reservations” and so on have saturated television channels, bringing so much complexity and romanticism to the act of making and eating food that even a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich couldn’t satisfy without first giving it a quick grill on the flattop. In the last five years or so the food business has transformed itself from a misguided and ill-mannered high school dropout to a Ph.D.-bearing drama student dancing its way up through the ranks to become one of the most admirable and appreciated industries around. Today we don’t just eat out of pure necessity, rather we eat out of sheer pleasure, and in turn our palettes have grown much more sensitive to what they accept versus what they don’t accept. As a result, this hyper-obsession over the food industry has recently trickled down into the beverage industry, giving way to not only hundreds of popup culinary events throughout the country, but a plethora of wine and cocktail events too. Thus the birth of the Aprs Ski Cocktail Classic here in Snowmass – the first cocktail event of its kind, debuting at the Westin Snowmass March 14-17 with a weekend of presentations, seminars and tastings featuring top mixologists, chefs and wine sommeliers. So what kind of events will the weekend include? Well for starters, a kickoff 1970s retro ski-theme party titled, “Keep it Tight and Keep it Bright,” followed by a handful of other indigenous aprs festivities like: “Hot Toddies 101”, “The Punch Bowl”, “Tiki Time in the Snow,” “The Terroir of Coffee,” a Grand Tasting Village and a special four-course aprs-ski dinner led by the Westin’s Snowmass Kitchen chef Ronnie Sanchez and four of the country’s top mixologists. According to Kim Haasarud, James Beard-honored mixologist, author, beverage consultant and ringleader of this year’s Classic, the weekend is meant to elevate the aprs experience to the kind of celebratory fashion found all over Europe: a fun, party atmosphere that highlights good drinks and eats.”We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously,” said Haasarud, who claims the newly renovated Westin Snowmass to be the ideal spot for this event, “but we also want to show people what a great cocktail can be.”Tim Johnson, director of sales and marketing at the Westin, says the event is just one of many he hopes to organize in the future – not just at the Westin, but throughout all of Snowmass.”There has certainly been a rise in popularity in culinary events and TV programming over the past few years, which is a testament to the overall popularity of the culinary arts,” Johnson said. “We felt this popularity, along with the promoter’s emphasis on the aprs-ski celebration, was a perfect fit and important part of what our mountain town is all about.” So, which celebrity faces can you expect to see at this year’s first ever Aprs Ski Cocktail Classic? To get everyone’s taste buds tingling with the proper level of excitement, the Aspen Times Weekly talked with three of the Classic’s top guests about their passion for food and drink .Cheers!
It was 1990 when Groundwork Coffee Co.’s founder, Richard Karno, started his rare-book-and-cafe business by roasting his own coffee. At that time, the demand from local restaurants became so great that he began roasting around the clock. Shortly thereafter, Groundwork went on to become one of the first certified organic coffee roasters in Southern California, focusing on sustainable, relationship-based and organic coffee sourcing. Today, Groundwork Coffee Co. has pioneered its way to become the largest organic coffee roaster in L.A., with seven cafe locations distributing whole beans and coffee extracts nationally in places like Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and REI.Aspen Times Weekly: You began roasting coffee organically over a decade ago. Why did you feel so strongly about pursuing an organic business when it was such a rarity at the time?Richard Karno: At that time, it was pretty well known in the industry that coffee is the third-most sprayed agricultural crop in the world after tobacco and cotton. Conventional coffee trees on large institutional farms are treated with a combination of fungicides, herbicides and pesticides. While it’s not proven that these chemicals find their way into the roasted bean, they definitely find their way into the eco-systems of the areas they are grown in. I didn’t what my business to contribute to the problem.ATW: In your experience, how has the coffee business grown or changed in the last decade?RK: In the late 1980s and early 1990s the coffee industry was doing such a terrible job on the whole that the only way to go was up. This allowed for a lot of experimentation by smaller entrepreneurs who were trying to make better coffee and serve it in a more interesting environment. Today, coffee is a more mature business, but I’m also a little concerned the industry is in danger of becoming more sizzle than steak as the theatre of coffee preparation gets more absurd and exclusionary to the average customer.ATW: In your opinion, do you find consumers more apt to choose a locally sourced, organic product that follows the farm-to-table method as opposed to a mass-manufactured product like Starbucks?RK: I don’t know how many consumers are that conscientious about their buying decisions, but companies like Starbucks have done an excellent job of raising the bar on coffee from its very lows in the 1970s to today. Many people don’t like taking risks on local establishments; the key is to cultivate your locals and let your reputation spread organically – pardon the pun.ATW: What coffee(s) do you plan to bring to the Cocktail Classic here in Snowmass? What message do you hope to get across during your tasting?RK: I’m going to bring a representative sample of a light, medium and dark roast as well as the Java Juice espresso concentrate used as a replacement for hot espresso in blended drinks. If there is a point to be made, it’s that given the amount of high-quality coffee available today, it’s very easy to offer good coffee and well-made coffee drinks to customers. There’s simply no excuse for making lousy coffee.ATW: If there were one thing you would want customers to know about organically roasted coffee, what would it be?RK: I’d want them to know that coffee is really a miraculous crop and that there are literally billions of coffee trees required to grow the beans necessary to meet the worldwide demand. Yet, despite all the steps and variables, we are in kind of a golden age of coffee. Customers now can choose certified organic coffee where every step in the supply chain is regulated and certified to ensure that no chemicals or agents come in contact. Simply put, life is too short for bad coffee.
It may be the first year the Aprs Ski Cocktail Classic will make its debut in Snowmass, but it’s not the first time executive chef Jim Butchart, of Aspen Skiing Co. will enjoy a runaround with the aprs scene. In fact, handling all the menus for mountain dining at Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass has perhaps placed him in a role of an aprs connoisseur, bringing the most appropriate flavors and combinations together for an unforgettable afternoon experience, no matter what the weather may entail at 10,000-plus feet.And for Butchart, who too enjoys a tasty snack in the sun after a day of skiing, there’s no better way to play back the aprs dining scene as experienced on a typical afternoon on the deck of Highlands’ Cloud Nine than a traditional cheese fondue and champagne pairing – a tasting he will prepare at the Cocktail Classic alongside Little Nell’s master sommelier Sabato Sagaria. Aspen Times Weekly: What made you decide to come up with this particular fondue? Are there certain cheeses that are better than others when it comes to fondue? Jim Butchart: This is a recipe for classic fondue, and although it’s a straightforward recipe with only a few ingredients, it’s a preparation that can easily come out not as expected. I find this recipe, when followed, to be reliable. Once you have the method down, the options for customizing to your particular taste are endless.ATW: Would you consider champagne and fondue to be traditional aprs items? Why? JB: Classic pairings would be an Alsatian Riesling or Pinot gris; however, I’m sure my good friend Sabato would agree that there is never a bad time for bubbles. Do it right and go big with Krug or an older-vintage Dom Perignon.ATW: Do you have a most memorable aprs experience you can share? JB: During my tenure as executive chef at the Ajax Tavern, I’ve witnessed many a good time, but it’s hard to beat a deck day at Cloud Nine – there is something magical that happens when you surpass 10,949 feet!ATW: The premise of the Cocktail Classic is to mimic the kind of after-ski experience one would find in Europe, particularly France, where the experience got its name. How would you define the aprs atmosphere here in Aspen?JB: Aprs and Aspen are like peas and carrots, and a sunny day in March on the slopes somehow seems incomplete without a proper aprs. ATW: How would you say your mountain-dining menus cater to a “proper” aprs in Aspen?JB: When we look at our aprs menus, we focus on items that can be easily shared and are not too temperature-sensitive. I would like to think that the food takes precedence, but dancing sometimes steals the show.
It was an age of the quick and artificial – of frozen-drink machines, sugared mixers, syrups, dyes and paper umbrellas. It was a time when the job of bartending sat somewhere between an accident and a means toward a grander plan, and a decade before the term “mixologist” was a known term, let alone a credible profession. It was the 1990s; a time celebrity bar professional and cocktail pioneer Tony Abou-Ganim describes as one of “no motivation,” yet an era fateful enough to offer him an opportunity to transform it for years to come. His goal: to return to the old days of classic cocktails using fresh and simple ingredients, the same approach he practiced in a family bar in Michigan before moving on to create some of the most innovative cocktail menus of his time – first at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco and later at Bellagio Las Vegas in 1998. Since then, Tony has redefined the beverage industry with two books, numerous TV appearances and a collection of award-winning cocktails to his name, ultimately lending him the professional title “modern mixologist.” Next on his agenda: the Aprs Ski Cocktail Classic here in Snowmass, where Tony will perform a tasting demonstration on Tom & Jerry, spiced cider toddies and glogg (a Scandinavian classic). Aspen Times Weekly: You obviously have an endless collection of cocktails to choose from. What made you decide on the cocktails you are featuring at your seminar?Tony Abou-Ganim: When I think aprs, I think of a celebrated experience shared with friends and family. The cocktails I chose all represent some type of celebration or gathering, specifically my cousin Helen’s Tom & Jerry she made in her bar in Michigan back in 1937. I’m hoping my cocktails will not only bring back fond family traditions, but will also warm everyone from the inside out. ATW: Your career took off before the idea of “mixology” began, specifically when you opened Harry Denton’s Starlight Room and created your most renowned cocktail, the Cable Car. How do you define mixology? Do you think it was something you were aspiring to from the beginning?TAG: I realized that it was a profession I was doing for a long time, so why not become the best bartender I can be? I started researching legendary bartenders, and the classic cocktails with fresh and simple ingredients are what held my interest. Simply put, when a bartender has an unusual expertise and elevates himself in the profession of mixing drinks, that’s when he becomes a mixologist.ATW: How would you describe a contemporary classic cocktail?TAG: A contemporary cocktail is an approach that utilizes the basics and brings a twist. There will never again be a totally original cocktail, just a variation of those that came before. I like to say that my cocktails utilize classic techniques in a modern way. ATW: What is the greatest change you have seen in the industry so far, and what, in your opinion, is the biggest mistake a bartender can make today?TAG: I think today more than, ever people are returning to the roots, to the way cocktails were done years ago. Then there was no motivation, today there is. I was given the true honor of being the guy who got to head that up, when the thought of writing a book or doing an interview just didn’t exist. The biggest mistake a bartender can make today is being too complex and forgetting that the most important ingredient is not in the cocktail but in the experience they are sharing with the guest. ATW: What do you have planned for your next project or adventure?TAG: My latest book, “Vodka Distilled,” was just recently released. In the next year, I hope to promote it by taking a long motorcycle ride across the country.