Ella opens in Carbondale
November 28, 2007
CARBONDALE Ask Ian and Jessie Kipp if determined would be an apt description of their desire to open a restaurant of their own, and a knowing twinkle lights Ians green eyes. Determined. Most definitely, he smiled. Jessie has some other words for it.That ambition, a quest that began in childhood for both of the Kipps, has been realized with the opening, in November, of Ella, in downtown Carbondale. The bistro-style restaurant, co-owned with Ians parents, matches the couples sense of purpose. The space is big and beautiful, with lots of wood, lots of brick, and lots of light, especially in the front room, with its enormous windows looking out on Carbondales Main Street. The menu ranges wide enough to include a burger and fries and a turkey club, as well as a Tasmanian salmon, cooked on a cedar plank and served with maple mustard and sweet corn succotash, and a rack of pork in a roasted tomato chipotle BBQ sauce, accompanied by herbed grits. The wine list is extensive and thoughtful; the wine racks loom throughout the restaurant, as if to remind diners to complete their meal with proper beverage.The thoroughness of the finished project stands in contrast to the Kipps seeming rush to open the doors, and finally be able to call themselves restaurateurs. Ian, the chef of Ella, is just 30; Jessie, who handles virtually everything outside of the kitchen, is 31. But considering their youth, they have been anticipating this moment for a long time.Ian essentially grew up in a restaurant: the one that was part of the Rocktide Inn, the hotel in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, that Kipps grandparents founded in 1968, on the site of an old lumber yard. Kipp worked in the restaurant during the summers, caught lobsters in the Maine waters memories that still bring a smile. The primary source of his desire to enter the business, though, was watching his grandfather at work. He was always there. That was really fun, said Kipp, who also felt comfortable with the hectic pace of a kitchen. He was one of the biggest influences on my life and my career.
Jessies entrance into the food field was not quite so early, innocent or charming. Her first job, in her hometown of Bergenfield, N.J., was at a bakery. She was 12 at the time, and thus illegally employed. Nevertheless, she was hooked. Her jobs since then have been in restaurants and the service industry; she also worked at a co-op winery in Oregons Willamette Valley, assisting 10 winemakers under one roof.After college Colorado College for Ian; Ithaca, in upstate New York, for Jessie the two met in Portland, Ore., where Ian was attending culinary school. Make that speeding through culinary school he spent just eight months at the Western Culinary Institute, an affiliate of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School.But I did two and a half years of work in eight months, said Kipp, whose low-key demeanor belies both his cooking ambitions and the typical chef profile. I was in school 16 hours a day, then worked at a cool little restaurant, Veritable Quandary, expediting at night, doing local, fresh, Northwestern cuisine, with a very Italian influence.Jessie didnt quite realize the whirlwind in which she was getting caught up. There was a point before we got married when Ian was choosing between law school and culinary school. He asked if Id still marry him if he chose culinary school and a restaurant. I said, Of course; Im not marrying you for your career.Little did I know.In fact, Ian did slow down long enough to make one vital stop in his dash to open a restaurant. A former student at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Kipp returned to Carbondale in 2004 to spend a year in the kitchens of Mark Fischer, who had put the town on the culinary map. Kipp split his year between Fischers Restaurant Six89 and Phat Thai, where he absorbed lessons in passion, creativity and Colorado ingredients.I really wanted to work for Mark, said Kipp. That was pretty much the deciding factor in moving back here. I had been at Six89 a couple of times, when I visited Carbondale, and was wowed. Hes just one of the most inventive, intelligent chefs I know. His approach to food is remarkable.Kipp showed impressive restraint upon his return to Colorado. Surveying Carbondale, he believed there were enough restaurants to meet demand. It just didnt seem the right time, he said. But over the few years since, he was seen the town grow in its foodie sophistication. When the building that had formerly housed the Hurricane Grill and Ship of Fools became available, he jumped in. It was hard to pass up, said Kipp. He had no spousal resistance, even though the couples daughter Ella, what else? was just 6 months old. Our instincts were to go for it We had to do it, said Jessie.A big part of the attraction was the building itself, and its history as a restaurant. Virtually everyone who worked on the extensive renovation, from woodworkers and metal workers to the art teacher friend who schemed the color design with Jessie, was from Carbondale. Its incredible to have all these people who have known this space for 30 years to contribute to this vision, said Ian.
While Kipp was immeasurably influenced by Fischer Ellas casual but refined atmosphere has a touch of the Six89 vibe his menu is as much inspired by his own experiences. Such dishes as the lobster menge trois, with the lobster prepared three ways (the knuckles and claws made into a hash; the tail herb-brolied, and the rest baked and stuffed), is straight out of New England, by way of culinary school. The lobster roll, on the other hand, is direct from Boothbay Harbor. The Tasmanian salmon comes from his days in Oregon.Kipp is also heavily influenced by the local-food movement. Ellas burger is made of grass-fed beef from cows raised along the Crystal River. The vegetables are as fresh as Kipp can possibly get them.Another part of the philosophy behind the menu is to mix comfort with creativity. Diners looking more for the former will find a roast chicken, a New York strip steak and crab cakes; those with a more adventurous side will be tempted by such touches as a Madeira cured elk sausage, wild mushroom ravioli and truffled mac & cheese.I wanted a menu that was very approachable, but that leaves an element of surprise, said Kipp, who plans to add onto an already extensive menu. Lobster cous cous people are familiar with cous cous, but to turn it into a risotto-like dish, with a lobster cream sauce?It might seem like a long road, from hauling lobsters out of Maine waters to turning them into unique dishes in his own kitchen. But the Kipps like the timing, becoming another piece of Carbondales burgeoning restaurant scene.Its a good time to be here, for sure, said Kipp.