Food Matters: A ‘Mod Oz’ Meal Plan
Victoria+co’s from-scratch food celebrates Australian and Canadian café culture, to enjoy here or at home
After 12 years of steady evolution, change came swiftly for Victoria+co once the pandemic happened.
“We were in Australia between March and June, when COVID hit,” explains Victoria Haveman, co-owner with her husband, John Beatty. The couple had been on an annual R&D sojourn to Beatty’s homeland, farm country near Sydney. “Everything that’s been going through our minds the last couple of years comes to the forefront.”
By June 15 they were back in Aspen, armed with a robust to-do list to comply with new safety regulations and enhance customer experience. Haveman and Beatty transitioned to a new computer system with online ordering and touchless payment, installed a takeaway window that opens to Galena Street, replaced countertops (and installed plastic partitions), and reconfigured interior seating to better accommodate guests at the full 25% capacity allowed. They spruced up the patio on Durant Avenue and added more outdoor seating on the corner, where diners flock during warm or sunny days, even in winter.
Similar to securing one’s own oxygen mask before assisting others, all of these enhancements were enacted to more efficiently serve the food and beverage for which “Victoria’s” has become known since 2009: traditional Australian specialties with Canadian influence (Haveman hails from Vancouver), in a style specific to our high-altitude Rocky Mountain resort town.
Now Victoria+co has launched a simple dinner series to better share its unique, from-scratch cuisine: take-home meals.
Instead of keeping the café, restaurant and wine bar open well into the evening, as originally envisioned (“Curry by Candlelight” was a popular nighttime event a few years ago; Beatty has hosted intimate wine tastings for oenophiles, especially during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and launched a cocktail program showcasing craft gin, bourbon and mezcal), the couple prepares a lovingly crafted, re-heatable meal each week for pickup on Thursday and Friday.
Haveman has a habit of calling them “family meals,” because they were conceived to feed her friends. Early on, she would send a group text to clients and acquaintances on Wednesday; now the weekly offering is posted on the Victoria+co website.
“A lot of (people) are cooking more at home,” Beatty says. “It’s nice to have a break at night, to not have to think about it.”
Last week, Victoria+co offered a Vietnamese meatball soup: soft, springy pork meatballs in a fragrant, warming, five-spice broth over rice noodles and crunchy carrot “ribbons” with lemon, lime and fresh herbs including mint, cilantro and Thai basil.
“Even though the name is five-spice, it’s really kaffir lime, ginger and pineapple syrup from Australia,” Haveman says. “When I had my Thai barista, Narrunwat Budsing, who’s been with us eight years, taste it, she said: ‘This is so fragrant and light!’”
Those carrot ribbons are soaked in ice water for a whole day to achieve ultimate crunchiness, even after the broth and meatballs were heated in a pan and poured into the recyclable bowl of noodles and bean sprouts in my home kitchen.
These international recipes are almost always gluten-free. The exception: house-made pasta, which has been enrobed with beef Bolognese, carbonara, pesto, vodka tomato sauce, or salmon lox with peas as a menu item for years. A recent family meal of vegetarian lasagna, layered with sheets of fresh pasta and house-made ricotta, slow-cooked marinara and roasted vegetables, served as a slab to feed four people, was an instant bestseller. Led by Beatty and Omar Perez, a longtime prep cook and baker formerly of Justice Snow’s, the crew baked beautiful loaves of seeded Dakota bread, too.
“Thai, Indian, that’s always been on our menu,” continues Haveman, referencing both the Thai Green Curry Chicken and Indian Butter Chicken, menu staples for about a decade. The latter she describes as “chicken thighs cooked in a yogurt dressing and butter chicken sauce that is 100% scratch: our chiles, our ginger, our roasted garlic, puréed with fresh tomatoes, served with rice.”
Soon: “complex but not spicy” Vietnamese nuoc cham pork served with rice. As Beatty’s house-cured salmon lox have long been a pasta and “brekkie” staple here, fresh catch occasionally makes its way to dinner. A recent to-go meal paired oven-roasted and flash-grilled salmon fillets with scalloped potatoes. (Meanwhile, Victoria’s bread-and-butter brekkie items span muffins, croissants, omelets, wraps, Aussie “sangas,” and sausage rolls to pair with expertly pulled flat whites and other espresso drinks using beans sourced from small-batch roasters in Eagle and Boulder and ground fresh by imported Mahlkonig grinders.)
Victoria+co’s “mod oz” culinary philosophy harks to Sydney’s contemporary style of Australian cuisine peppered with global influences.
“Fresh, clean ingredients, scratch-made food,” Beatty says. “To us it’s all about flavor. Everything we do, whether pastries, coffee, chai, cocktails (or food and wine), it’s all about that balance of flavor.”
To commemorate Australia Day (Jan. 26), the team prepared dozens of authentic meat pies, stuffed with ground Australian lamb seasoned with native spices known as “bush foods.” Beatty also crafted silky chocolate bonbons infused with ingredients such as rainforest lime and lemon myrtle. Beatty prides himself on “a long involvement in the Aussie bush food movement, being one of the first importers of Australian native spices to North America.”
Many customers purchase six hand-sized pies at a time, to keep in a freezer at home.
“You think there are no Australians (here this winter)?” Haveman says. “We sold 75 Aussie pies that week!” Others called in a series of family dinners over the holidays: the new socially distanced catering. “Give us a couple days’ notice and we can make it for you,” Haveman says. “It’s like we’re personal chefs, in a way.”
While the couple will likely not be able to return to their Australia farm this spring as usual, the “huge” increase in online to-go orders this winter keeps them busy. Victoria+co also started packaging pocket cold brew, cocktails and cava, “In a mylar bag for your ski pockets!” Haveman quips. “The bar has been a lifesaver.”
Beatty, who manages that corner of the café, a veritable wall of wine and spirits near the front entrance, agrees.
“Our espresso martini has been getting killer reviews,” he says. What’s the secret? “Good espresso is a good start!”
Find chef John Beatty’s Australian Pavlova recipe in “The Aspen Cookbook,” out now as a community fundraiser. AspenCookbook.com
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