From the Food & Wine Classic to a downvalley showcase |

From the Food & Wine Classic to a downvalley showcase

Jessica Cabe
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Aspen Chef Susie Jimenez is building community for a cause once more with her first Taste of the Valley event on Sept. 19. Ten percent of ticket sales will go toward Planting Seeds, a foundation Jimenez is in the process of setting up which will allow her to teach children in the Roaring Fork School District how to cook and make healthy snacks.
Aspen Times Weekly file photo |

After chef Susie Jimenez’s Taste of the Valley event at Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic, she started thinking about all the great downvalley food that doesn’t get the credit or exposure it deserves, and she decided to do something about it.

“Aspen’s Food & Wine (Classic) is awesome, but why do we not have a local something showcasing the best bites of the valley?” Jimenez said. “The point is to try to support these people. Why not introduce them and expose them a little bit more?”

So she started organizing her first Taste of the Valley event, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at Carbondale’s Fourth Street Plaza. She has restaurants, wineries, breweries and distilleries represented from Basalt to Glenwood Springs, and there also will be five cooking demonstrations throughout the day. For the cost of admission, attendees can eat and drink to their hearts’ content and take home recipes when the day is done.

“You’re tasting 10 different kinds of liquors, wines, beers, all that good stuff, and then you get to try 16 chefs’ bites all day long and educate yourself,” she said.

Jimenez said if this first Taste of the Valley is a success, she plans on moving it up and down the valley in the future and possibly holding it more than once a year.

“Taste of the Valley was never meant for just Carbondale; it was meant for the valley,” she said. “I’m sort of putting downvalley as a group. You’ve got to go through Glenwood to get to Carbondale. You’ve got to go through Basalt to come this other direction, you know? I think we all need to help each other. There’s no reason for us to compete. We have some good stuff going on here. In the end, it doesn’t matter where or what as long as we’re all standing together.”

In addition to giving more exposure to local food and drink, Jimenez believes food can be a huge community-builder, and she hopes Taste of the Valley brings people from the area together.

“The party always ends up in the kitchen,” she said. “You don’t go to someone’s house just to go. You go to eat dinner, brunch, breakfast, all that. You go out of town to have food and then go out and have some cocktails. Food makes everything go ’round.”

Planting Seeds

With Taste of the Valley, Jimenez is killing two birds with one stone. She’s organizing an event that she hopes will get people out and learning about local options for food and drinks, but she’s also taking 10 percent of the money from ticket sales to put back into the Roaring Fork School District.

She’s founding a nonprofit organization (she’s still in the middle of the registration process) called Planting Seeds, which funds hands-on cooking classes in pre-kindergarten through third-grade classrooms in the district. She needs about $100 for supplies each time she goes to a class, and she’s donating her time.

Jimenez taught a cooking workshop for the first time about three years ago at Basalt Elementary School.

“The kids’ eyes just light up when you make them do things that are out of the norm,” Jimenez said. “They’re very creative; they love art.

“So I had them make chicken lettuce wraps. I showed them how to cut the chicken and tell when it was done. They were stirring the chicken and adding little spices. Some of them didn’t want to eat it because they wanted to take it home to Mom and Dad.”

The class was fun, but Jimenez realized the true impact when she got a letter from one of the boys she taught.

“He was like, ‘Thank you so much. I took my family to the store to buy everything on the recipe that you gave us, and we cooked and ate as a family,’” she said. “And that really just opened my eyes that kids usually do feel very empowered and like they’re teaching their parents something.”

In this instance, the teacher paid for all the materials, but Jimenez doesn’t want teachers to have to do that. So she hopes the Planting Seeds foundation earns enough money for her to go to 20 classes this year.

“I think Taste of the Valley is a win-win situation for all of us,” she said. “I hope teachers come show their support by having fun, drinking some wine and beer, supporting locals and eating, and also knowing that 10 percent of the ticket sales is going to them at the end of the day.”