Extreme Culinary: Feeding the X Games | AspenTimes.com

Extreme Culinary: Feeding the X Games

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Snow sports aren’t the only extreme activity happening at Buttermilk this weekend: Imagine cooking three meals a day for 700 people from a tent in a parking lot.

That’s just part of the challenge facing chef Randy Placeres of Aspen Culinary Solutions, the official caterer for ESPN staff at the Winter X Games. Breakfast in the tent begins at 6 a.m., and dinner ends at 8 p.m.

It’s a pretty “high-carb” diet in the tent, Placeres notes, while standing in front of a table full of chafing dishes filled with foil-wrapped baked potatoes, kettles of soup and a salad and sandwich bar. ESPN staffers, course workers and some media flock for a meal, sitting en masse at rows of tables with folding chairs.

“We expect 700 to 800 people a day for each meal, and we’ve warmed up with between 300 and 400 people a day for the last few days,” he said. In total, Placeres and his chefs and staff will cook and serve 16,000 meals between Jan. 19-28.

Just one part of the advance work included preparing 40 different kinds of soup in advance and freezing it all.

Lunchtime chef and Aspen resident Joe Hope said on Wednesday they served enchiladas to the crowd, and blew through 40 pans, rather than the expected 25.

“Sometimes people skip breakfast, so they’re making up for it at lunch,” Hope said. Chef Janine Donnellan provides breakfast, and chef Todd Olson works on dinner plans.

Placeres has been a private chef in Aspen for family homes in Starwood and on Red Mountain, after working in restaurants in Hawaii, Chicago and California.

It’s a big contract to provide that much food for that many people at one of the season’s biggest events. But he jumped at the chance to put in a bid to provide food at the X Games, even though he had just created his own local catering company this fall.

“There’s so much quality in Aspen ” I’m excited that they’re giving a local business a shot,” Placeres said. “I looked forward to coming to work this morning.”

In the back of the catering tent, three separate staffs of 12 cooks each prepare the next meal, hustling to chop cucumbers, arrange cheese platters and restock baked potatoes. The food was ordered through Sysco, and a refrigerated truck nearby serves as a giant storeroom, a sort of “restaurant on wheels,” Placeres said.

Although lately he’s the most practiced at cooking for Aspen’s wealthy set, it’s still all about the quality of the food for him.

“Basically caring about the food is what gets me through,” he said, standing amid it all. “From the millionaire to the guy grooming the hill ” I try to make it like my mom is going to eat here.”

Placeres loves to snowboard and had his own extreme experience with the sport last winter season, when he hit the ground while playing in the terrain park, injured his back and ended up in the hospital. He spent several months wearing a brace fastened with Velcro around his middle, not able to get back on his snowboard or even work.

But back on his feet this season, Placeres has already noticed that he has a perfect view of the entire halfpipe from the edge of the Sysco food truck, and hopes to catches some of the games over the next few days. A flap in the tent’s kitchen has been opened up, so the cooks have the same view as they buzz around.

But lunch is just getting under way, and before catching one last view of the superpipe, Placeres heads back out to his crowd, ladling soup to a famished group of ESPN staffers.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]