Charles Dale Rustique and Range
If Aspen were to elect a president of its food universe, Charles Dale would undoubtedly win by a landslide.With a culinary career that’s both distinguished and diverse, Dale is perhaps the most widely known and universally respected of Aspen’s chefs and restaurateurs. And as the chef/owner of two popular restaurants, Rustique and Range (and formerly Renaissance), Dale has remained true to his foodie roots.Says Dale of the driving force behind his food: “To use the freshest ingredients and treat them simply with a respect for tradition.”And of his restaurants’ philosophies: “A welcoming environment and a feeling of belonging.”It is this, not the well-deserved accolades and awards he has garnered over the years, that made us seek out his advice on eating and drinking in Aspen.Gotta eat thereFor an upscale evening out, Dale gave the nod to Matsuhisa. “My wife and I go there for special occasions. It is always interesting and exciting from a culinary perspective, it’s radically different from what I do, and it’s not something I would do at home. And, of course, it’s right next door to us.”The father of two children, ages 4 and 2, it’s no surprise that Dale’s favorite casual meal can be found at Boogie’s Diner. “It’s fun and kid-friendly, and I think my wife secretly slips in some shopping. But we also like Merlin’s – the kids get to make their own pizza, which is fun, and I really like thin crust pizza.”Cheers!”A drink out … it’s so rare. I’m going to have to say Jimmy’s or the Caribou Club. Jimmy’s for the margaritas – I love good tequila and mescal; and I have a long-standing relationship with the Caribou.”Here’s to you, my brotherDale, an oft-admired chef himself, says three chefs are creating interesting cuisine right now: Barclay Dodge, of Mogador; Paul Wade, of Montagna at The Little Nell; and Martin Oswald, of Syzygy. “They’re bringing in cutting-edge techniques, serving food in interesting ways, and they’re playing with ingredients and ethnicity,” says Dale. “They’re finding their own comfort with a certain fusion.”The dishWill El Jebel be the next food Mecca of the Roaring Fork Valley? Maybe. “I’m going to go off the map here … The thing that I get the biggest craving for is the seafood cocktail at El Korita.”Freaky foodFor us hot dog-eating, Coors-light drinking Americans, this one’s a bit hard to swallow. But for Dale, who grew up in France, kidneys, tripe and brains are fine fare. “I personally really love all three,” he says. “I haven’t served them in a couple of years now, but a lot of people request them. And if they give me a few days’ notice, I can do it. I would love to. In fact, I used to have them as [Rustique’s] Weird Dish of the Night, but now we have a whole ‘Weird’ section of the menu and these are just too weird to serve nightly.”
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the decent that poses a challenge.