Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar invites diners to meet farmers and ranchers at the table
Meet & Celebrate Local Ranchers & Farmers Dinner with Kate McBride of The Other Side Ranch and Erin Cuseo of Erin’s Acres FarmThursday, Sept. 26, at 6:30 p.m. $48, three courses Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar 305 Gold Rivers Court, Basalt 970-279-5199 email@example.com
Kate McBride devoured the fresh pasta so fast that she can’t remember what it looked like, but she can definitely describe the star ingredients: “José Miranda’s water buffalo meat and water buffalo milk for ricotta, and Erin Cuseo’s vegetables. (Chef) Chris (Krowicki) prepared the same product I so loved and turned it into something where I licked every morsel off every plate,” she enthuses.
The three-course “meet and celebrate our local farmers” dinner at Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar earlier this month was such a success that owners Robin and Steve Humble will reprise the event on Sept. 26. This time they invite McBride — proprietor of The Other Side Ranch in Old Snowmass — as a featured purveyor. McBride will provide organic, pasture-raised, GMO-free lamb, with one request: that Cuseo, of Erin’s Acres Farm, supply her “sublime” produce, too.
“We both raise our products with such care that we do know everything that goes on … attention to minutiae is important,” McBride says. “It’s important that people get to know farmers because there’s this tremendous insulation from who you are and how you live your life in this world of immediacy, including what you eat. You can’t trust (food labels) any more. If you can get to know your farmer or grower, you’re guaranteeing that risk is not there.”
McBride was even more impressed with Free Range when, in discussing the upcoming prix-fixe menu, chef Krowicki indicated that “he doesn’t want the prized French rack or premium cuts,” she says. “He said no — he wants to use a more common cut and work his magic there. Talk about Mr. Midas Touch!”
Cuseo echoes this sentiment. Though this summer’s challenging growing season with lots of early rain meant many unknowns from week to week, Krowicki seems in his ultimate creative element on the fly.
“I felt really comfortable knowing that if I got a frost, (Krowicki) would made it work,” Cuseo says of the last celebration. “He’s going to bring it.”
The Sept. 26 dinner at Free Range allows participating farmers and ranchers to share their personal backstory with potential customers. McBride will no doubt discuss The Other Side’s raw dairy share program and full-service equine fitness and rehabilitation program — both launched as a means to care for her sick child, now 14. (As raw milk products are prohibited from direct sale by Colorado law, those will not be on the menu.)
Cuseo plans to launch a six to eight week winter CSA share from Erin’s Acres Farm, featuring fresh greens, sunflower shoots, radishes and hardy vegetables. Subscribers, who purchase a share of food in advance to help offset Cuseo’s operational cost, will receive a box of bounty weekly until mid-January.
“I’m planting fall greens: kale, spinach, Asian mustard greens, lettuce, microgreens, to keep those flowing,” she says. “All the farmers in the valley would agree that there’s a huge market for fresh greens — that’s what gets people hooked. It’s hard to go back to the grocery store.”
Connecting consumers with Colorado food has been Free Range owners Steve and Robin Humble’s mission since they opened the restaurant in downtown Basalt three years ago this December.
“We’ve finally touched on what the community wants; my focus was always cleaner food, hormone- and antibiotic-free, as un-sprayed as possible, more sustainable practices, because of cancer,” explains Robin Humble, who endured 14 rounds of chemo in the year prior to starting Free Range.
That commitment has led the Humbles to seek ingredients from thoughtful area producers including Rock Bottom Ranch, Two Roots Farm, and Farm Runners — the latter, a delivery service, “pivotal in keeping us true to the local-as-possible thing,” Humble says. In the hands of masterful chef Krowicki (alum of The Little Nell and Roaring Fork Club), Free Range “had a record-breaking, epic summer,” she adds.
A casual, camaraderie-focused format and gentle price point — $48 for three courses — that involves direct access to folks growing food defines Free Range, Humble continues.
“‘Farm-to-table’ isn’t what this is; it’s ‘meet and celebrate the farmer.’ It’s an opportunity to open up relationships and educate those who want to be educated.”
As area farmers’ markets approach autumn closure, the Roaring Fork Valley is entering a phase best described by Cuseo as “the last hurrah” on summer crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Soon it’ll be prime time for storage crops: potatoes, garlic, onions. Cuseo, who also raises water buffalo with partner Miranda at Rocking TT Bar in Carbondale, is looking ahead to a trip to California, where the couple will acquire a fresh herd of ranch animals. While there, they’ll stay on a friend’s vegetable farm, natch.
“It’s funny,” Cuseo says, “when farmers take vacations they visit other farms. I’m excited to experience that and see what other people are doing.”
Meanwhile, the average diner enjoys rare opportunities for such connection. Few local restaurants invite area farmers to participate in-house, though proprietors or chefs are increasingly keen to select certain ingredients to highlight in menu specials.
McBride remembers when, years ago, Rustique Bistro in Aspen featured The Other Side Ranch pork chops from her heritage pigs.
“They ordered enough for the week and went through it the first night,” McBride marvels. “It was a testament to the population seeking out the local, organic, pasture-raised product — people are understanding that that means something. It’s synonymous with quality. I commend Free Range, Steve and Robin, for choosing to highlight what is important in making good health choices. They take the time to get to know their providers, and now they’re sharing it with the public.”