Q&A with Wendy Mitchell, owner of Meat & Cheese and Hooch bar | AspenTimes.com
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Q&A with Wendy Mitchell, owner of Meat & Cheese and Hooch bar

Staff report
Wendy Mitchell sips a cocktail at Meat and Cheese in Aspen.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

KICKING OFF SUMMER

To find out about what’s in store for The Aspen Times’s 2020 Summer Kickoff Virtual Culinary weekend, go to http://www.aspentimes.com/culinaryweekend to check out the schedule and register for a virtual 5k and webinars hosted by local chefs and wine experts.

With the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen placed on the back burner until 2021, The Aspen Times has created the 2020 Summer Kickoff/Virtual Culinary Weekend to help fill the void. The Aspen Times is hosting a collection of virtual events to fill in just a bit, at a time when the town usually is welcoming chefs and sommeliers for Aspen’s annual rite of summer. The Times is hosting four Zoom webinars (as well as a virtual 5K) this coming weekend. This week, we’ll be asking some of the hosts about the industry trying to rebound from the pandemic and what this weekend of wine and food means to them.

All donations from the weekend events will be used to provide economic assistance to Roaring Fork Valley restaurant workers.

Today, we talk with cheese maker and monger Wendy Mitchell, who owns Meat & Cheese restaurant as well as the Hooch cocktail bar. She will be hosting a wine-and-cheese seminar at 4 p.m. Saturday along with Sommelier Chris Schaetzle from the Natural Wine Co.

What will you miss most about the Food & Wine Weekend?

My favorite thing is always when a celebrity chef comes in and really enjoys the food and restaurant. I’ll miss seeing all the celebrity chefs the most.

We all have specific or special memories of Classics past. What are two or three of those for you?

I loved when Dana Corbin told me our goat milk panna cotta was the best she’d ever had. Probably not true, but a very nice compliment and that was when we were still making cheese and the goat milk was from our farm.

Another big moment was the year Marcus Samuelson was here and Flip Wise our butcher at the time was cooking a pig in a china box out front. Marcus came by early in the morning and chatted with Flip, came back by to check on the pig a little later, sent his wife by for lunch while he was doing a seminar, and then came back for dinner that night. And they are the most beautiful people, so it was just such a great compliment and just so fun to chat and hang out with them.

Before I had the restaurant, and I was a full-time cheesemaker, I used to work the Farmers’ Market on Saturday. One year this hilarious family came by, a mom and her two kids, and they sampled A LOT of samples and then they bought everything and were so complimentary about the cheeses. I was looking down and I hear her say to her husband who walked up when I wasn’t looking — “honey, you have to try this cheese” with a very New York accent. I looked up and Mario Batali was sampling our cheese. He didn’t really comment other than to say “it’s too cheap, you need to charge more.” Turned out he was right.

What has changed in your business since we have started to reopen?

Um, everything. It’s really hard to adapt from being a place that’s all about fun and interaction with and between our guests. I really miss the way people crammed on the banquette would talk across tables and even share food with strangers. But perseverance is a must right now, so we’re doing our best to adapt, follow the rules and patiently waiting for the day we can all be social and interact freely.

How can the food and wine worlds emerge stronger from this period of time?

All I can say is I hope we emerge. I think there will finally be a much greater appreciation for local food, but I’m worried that we might not make it to the other side. The challenges are real for independent restaurants.

What has been the biggest thing the community has done to support you since all this began?

There is not one single thing, but overall we are connected to everyone in our little town and they to us. Everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive and doing what they feel comfortable doing ­— whether that’s shopping, getting take-out or dining in now that we are open. People have sent us flowers, money and thoughtful notes of thankfulness. We are really lucky to be here in such a tight community. I imagine it’s much harder in big cities, where you might not know your clients so intimately.


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