Food Matters: Give the gift of a cool food experience
What’s better than giving a great gift? Creating an opportunity for a friend or loved one to create lasting memories. So, instead of Insta-worthy kitchen gadgets and gizmos — there are plenty every season, see the internet — here are a few epicurean Aspen experiences to stoke excitement after the holiday buzz fades.
EMBARK ON AN ADVENTURE ABROAD AT MAWA’S KITCHEN
Born on the Ivory Coast, raised in Paris, and a world traveler since, chef Mawa McQueen shares her passion for global cuisine during a new winter series of specialty dinners. Held in Mawa’s recently expanded dining room in the ABC, each themed event showcases foreign fare from McQueen’s repertoire.
“Fondue Night Out” on Jan. 25 offers a selection of preparations: French Alpine fondue Savoyarde, which includes McQueen’s authentic molten cheese blend and all classic accoutrements (crispy baguette, vegetables, apples, chorizo; $98); fondue Bourguignon, for which guests cook marinated beef tenderloin, chicken and Norwegian salmon in oil, to dip in four sauces ($125); or hot broth-based Japanese shabu shabu, with beef, vegetables, salmon, shrimp and rice noodles ($125). Each includes salad — and dessert chocolate fondue, natch.
Those craving more elusive (around here) flavors of saffron, persimmon, pomegranate and cardamom will want to reserve a seat for Feb. 28: “Middle Eastern Night” begins with an array of mezze such as house-made labneh and parsnip “ghanoush” with Mawa’s house-made seed-mix pita; a choice of Mediterranean salads variously involving fennel, fattoush, and oregano-chili vinaigrette; and an entrée selection of spiced Colorado lamb, trout or chicken plus sides and dessert ($85).
Finally, at the “Raclette Aspen Dinner” on March 21: local and international charcuterie including Jamón Ibérico, grilled vegetables and sides for blanketing in melted Alpine cheese ($89). Desserts harking to Mawa’s former stomping grounds in the City of Light — tarte tatin and île flôttante, among others — cap the evening.
Snag a Mawa’s Kitchen gift certificate to cover the price of admission to one or more of these tasty journeys — and hope your giftee chooses to take you along. mawaskitchen.com
ULTIMATE BOTTLE SERVICE: DIY DISTILLERY AT MARBLE DISTILLING CO. & THE DISTILLERY INN
An intoxicatingly epic present for spirits aficionados: A weeklong educational immersion at Carbondale’s award-winning craft distillery — one of few truly sustainable operations, and perhaps first in the world with luxury lodging onsite. Lucky participants will learn the whole process of making whiskey or bourbon: how to mash grain, ferment, distill and select/hydrate a 53-gallon aging cask for storage. While that hard-won barrel hangs at the distillery up to three years (required to develop its full expression), apprentices will return home after six days with a miniature, three-gallon cask for comparison, as MDC distillers send samples from the larger cask annually. It’s good ol’ hands-on work—a half day alone involves moving soaked grains in a “stripping” run to MDC’s 500-gallon distillation still — but worth claiming some 250 finished bottles to label and sign as one’s own. Or select a two-day “lite” version of the class, for which MCD will pre-mash and -ferment in advance, leaving folks to make whiskey cuts, barrel, and, if desired, bottle the signature spirit deserving of unfiltered bragging rights. $12,000, limited to six guests; special lodging rates; marbledistilling.com
COOK IN A CUSTOM SPRINTER VAN
Gourmet breakfast with National Park views? Aspen Custom Vans will make that dream a reality. The company’s adventure rental, “Blue,” a 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter — with solar power, diesel heater, and handsome interior wood paneling — features a tidy kitchen ideal for on-the-road entertaining in style.
“Blue has an outward facing kitchen so you can chat with friends, with a fold-up cutting/prep space (when) sitting on the passenger seat that swivels,” says company co-founder Kimbo Brown-Schirato. Blue, which sleeps two, is equipped with a sink, mini fridge and all tools to cook a proper meal, including well-seasoned cast-iron pans, gas cooktop and tableware. Though certain outdoorsmen might scoff at spending an extra minute within walls, “We also include a regular outdoor stove in case you’d rather cook outside,” Brown-Schirato says. Starting at $210/night, three-night minimum; outdoorsy.com/rv/3914; aspencustomvans.com
SIP THE WORLD’S BEST WINE IN THE RED LIGHT LOUNGE
Celebrate the 30th pearl anniversary of The Little Nell with a swank private cellar tasting or dinner delivered from element 47 upstairs. Lounge among a collection of 20,000 bottles — some of the world’s most sought-after wines on a multiple Grand Award-winning list — pulled by a pro sommelier straight from the shelves of the subterranean vault. Tasting guests may pair with accompaniments such as house-cured meats and fine local cheeses; diners enjoy a guided wine experience; everyone walks away wowed.
Cellar tasting available nightly at 6 p.m. ($500/min for six guests; $200 per additional) or 8:30 p.m., ($1,000 min for six guests; $200 per additional). Dinner nightly at $500/min per person. Tax/gratuity not included. RSVP: thelittlenell.com/dining/element-47
SCORE A SUSHI SHOWBOAT
If you haven’t zipped down to Thai House Co. & Sushi in El Jebel yet, you’ve maybe heard about it. Opened just a few weeks ago, the diminutive downvalley joint has garnered rabid enthusiasm among Aspenites, evidenced by a packed house nightly and recent elimination of reservations as a result. If you’re uninitiated, brother-sister-mother chef-owners Arik, Stephanie and Sang Sananikone understand; it’s a tough jaunt during the holidays. Consider ordering a wooden sushi boat stuffed full of sushi (don’t miss the stunning purple-blue butterfly pea sashimi or rolls topped with inventive garnishes such as crushed pistachio) or snag a voucher to secure the craft as a snazzy centerpiece at a later date. Priced per order; facebook.com/thcsushi
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April has been decreed, for the first time, as “Sonoma County Wine Month” by the vintners and it is a righteous idea, one that should have legs long into the future.