Saving the planet one meal at a time

Naomi HavlenAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN You might think about being environmentally responsible, but do you think about your carbon footprint when making dinner?Dont worry chef and restaurateur Mark Fischer doesnt really think about it either. When hes cooking, what matters most to Fischer is taste. Thats a philosophy thats served him well as owner of Restaurant Six89 in Carbondale for the past nine years, and at his Phat Thai restaurant, also in Carbondale, since it opened in December of 2003.

But, conveniently, focusing on taste and getting the freshest possible ingredients also means using locally grown and raised produce and meats, and thats where Fischer finds himself doing his part for the environment.This isnt some ego trip where Im doing things to change the world through what I prepare, Fischer said recently. I just think it tastes good.On Wednesday, Fischer taught a hands-on class at the Cooking School of Aspen, offering 13 women his expertise while preparing a four-course meal that included a number of ingredients from growers and ranchers around the western slope of Colorado. The Milagro Ranch Meatballs got their name from the ranch in Missouri Heights were Felix Tornare raises grass-fed beef, and Fischer chopped basil he grew in his own Carbondale garden.Some of the first sweet corn of the season from Olathe, between the towns of Montrose and Delta, was in his corn and goat-cheese tortas; and peaches from Palisade, near Grand Junction, were stirred into a peach and blueberry crumble for dessert.Although a wave of interest in organically grown and raised food swept the United States several years ago, the focus on eating food that doesnt have to be trucked, shipped or flown hundreds of miles to arrive on your plate is a more recent phenomenon. Buying food that comes from this region has obvious benefits for the environment farmers and ranchers end up using a lot less polluting fossil fuels to deliver their products to U.S. consumers than, say, farmers in New Zealand.

And when it comes to the taste and pure freshness of ingredients grown nearby, Fischer said he regularly chooses locally raised ingredients over organically grown food that comes from hundreds of miles away.We go as local as we can at the restaurant [Six89] within the [parameters] of fiscal responsibility, Fischer said. We have really embraced the idea of using local, sustainably grown food. People think that organic ingredients are the only way to go, but organic ingredients might come from California, when I can get sustainable food right down the road.Specifically, he depends on produce from Zephyros Farm & Garden in Paonia, Ute City Gardens in Woody Creek and Sustainable Settings right in Carbondale. Using locally raised food means having a seasonal menu the choices at Six89 change on a regular basis to reflect that.Fischer recommends reading The Omnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan for a closer look at how food gets from producer to plate, and how it affects the natural world. A number of local chefs and organizations have joined the movement for fresher, more local ingredients, including chef Ryan Hardy of Montagna in The Little Nell, who has purchased an organic farm in Crawford, where he can grow everything from greens to squashes, and raise sheep and chickens. Sustainable Settings on Thompson Creek Ranch is a small-scale ranch and farm that raises chicken, sheep and cattle, as well as heirloom varieties of vegetables.As for where this valleys amateur chefs can find ingredients grown in and raised on local dirt, Fischer admitted its not always easy.The irony is that we dont live in a big city, so sometimes we cant get fresh produce grown up the road, he said. But he does recommend checking out any of the Roaring Fork Valleys farmers markets, or stopping at roadside produce stands like those near Aspen Village and Buttermilk.Naomi Havlens e-mail address is