Culinary bosses of past, present, and future reflect on the joys and challenges of nourishing our mountain town
June 14, 2018
While the Food & Wine Classic attracts gourmands from around the world to our cozy mountain town for one wickedly fun weekend every summer, the ~7,000 maniacs who call Aspen home know that it's a dining destination year-round—and more. Here, top chefs and restaurateurs sound off…
"I miss Aspen—I feel like we got there at a good time, when the food scene was not trying to be so white tablecloth. Viceroy was cool enough to let me do what I wanted. When you move to a new spot you have to start from ground zero; I brought Matt (Lafrance) and (pastry chef) Ashley (Jenkin, both from Eight K) to Telluride. You wanna build your team; the most important thing is your family. A lot of the farmers (in Telluride) are either friends or relatives or connected with farmers around the Roaring Fork Valley. It's cool to be a part of the movement.
For Heritage Fire (June 16) in Snowmass we're teaming up with Home Team BBQ to do three dishes. It's so much fun—and a lot of work!"
❱❱ Will Nolan, former executive chef of Eight K at the Viceroy Snowmass (2009-2017); now executive chef, Madeline Hotel & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection, in Telluride since Oct. 2017
[Photo courtesy of Madeline Hotel & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection]
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ASPEN IS…A CITY IN DISGUISE
"Aspen was more of a city atmosphere than a mountain town atmosphere. And the traffic! It was a playground, but I worked too much, as with anywhere I've lived. I learned diversity between menus—the fancy, refined Little Nell to the casual, rustic Ajax Tavern. In Aspen we took everything up the gondola for weddings and events on the mountain. Here in Crested Butte I drive cakes up the mountain! I learned how to package for safe transport. There were also a lot of networking opportunities that I don't get here. Famous chefs, big names, idols…I miss that interaction."
❱❱ Danielle Riesz Gutter, executive pastry chef of The Little Nell, 2010-2014; now pastry chef and owner of Wildflour Sweets in Crested Butte.
"When I was in Los Angeles, everyone would Frank Sinatra the shit outta me—you know, 'If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, New York, New York.' That kept ringing in my ears. New York was difficult, but I think Aspen is even more difficult to survive in as a chef. The financial disparity is overwhelming…the transient nature of our employment. Your cooks are coming and going, you're constantly struggling to be able to pay them enough to not go where the grass is greener. What makes our industry hard is the turnover; teaching people constantly is the bane of our existence.
Anthony Bourdain used to talk about the fact that fine dining and the hands-on aspect of cooking is disappearing. Well, we're destroying the restaurant industry here in Aspen.
My hat's off to Barclay Dodge (at Bosq) for maintaining his standard of excellence and creating a vision that is contrary in this valley. He has a captive audience because of his reputation."
❱❱ Miles Angelo, executive chef of the Caribou Club (since 1997)
[Photo by Hal Williams]
ASPEN IS…ON ITS OWN SCHEDULE
"The challenge for me these days is balancing Zocalito's chile import business, which has grown immensely, and how I juggle the farmers' new schedule. We're the only ones in the world that have thousands of pounds of the yellow, red, negro chilcosles and chilhuacle chiles—they grow in a certain part of Oaxaca, and growers have had to make adjustments in tending their fields due to climate change. Now all the production is coming out earlier, and I have to go down to Mexico at weird times—in February and March. It's not all that busy in Denver or Chicago, but Aspen is off the hook! Last year I was down there dehydrating chiles for almost a full month before Food & Wine. You're booked solid and trying to get away—super challenging but so important."
❱❱ Mike Beary, chef-owner of Zocalito since 2000, relocating to Denver (15th Street and Champa Street) this fall
[Photo by Mike Beary]
"The dinner happened at the Food & Wine Classic of 1995, one year after I won my Best New Chef award. James Mazzio was my sous chef, three years before winning his own BNC. The guests (party of 8) were culinary legends of a generation: Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Daniel Boulud, Victor and Marcella Hazan, as well as Malachy Duffy and Dana Cowin from Food & Wine magazine. Many had been in before individually, but never together as a power table. Add to this a fully booked restaurant and bar upstairs—the pressure was on!
It was a thrill for all of us in the kitchen when Jacques and Daniel came back to congratulate the staff, and almost like a benediction when Julia declared that her sea bass was the best she'd ever had. Swoonable moments. This could only happen at an event such as Food & Wine, which brings together superstars, established and upcoming, of the culinary world.
It's interesting to see how my menus have evolved over the 22 years since that night. I still love to cook foie gras; raviolis are a staple at Bouche; and, believe it or not, prices at the three restaurants I operate today are virtually the same as way back then. But my cooking is simpler and more assured.
Aspen is where it all began in my career as a chef and entrepreneur, for which I will be forever grateful."
❱❱ Charles Dale, former chef-owner of Renaissance (1990-2003); now chef-owner of Bouche Bistro, Maize Restaurant, and Trattoria A Mano in Santa Fe, N.M.
[Photo by Douglas Merriam]
ASPEN IS…IN GOOD TASTE
"Aspen people want fresh and special: raw bar, Japanese oyster, scallop, yellowtail, whole fish (branzino, sea bass, red snapper). Duck we cook daily, Peking-style, at five o'clock—also served with caviar. It's high-quality, healthy Aspen flavor. Why not put fresh kale in Chinese fried rice with shiitake mushroom, edamame and truffle? That's our Aspen 'kale salad.'"
❱❱ Frank Lu, chef-owner of Jing, formerly Asie, since 2001
"How do you start a pop-up restaurant in the back of a club then turn it into a chefs' table, lounge, patio? You have a cosmopolitan group of people in a mountain town—and they don't just consider you cooks, they consider you artists. When Jonathan (Leichliter) and I opened Tanuki, both the takeout concept and now House of the Rising Tanuki-San, their energy gave us energy to put this on. Aspen is a strange utopia."
❱❱ Adam Christopher Norwig, co-chef/owner of Tanuki To Go, which expanded last week to House of the Rising Tanuki-San inside Bootsy Bellows
[Photo by Anna Stonehouse]
ASPEN IS…HISTORY REBORN
"We knew immediately that this was what we look for. (Aspen) was our first opportunity outside of Austin that we took seriously…and it just felt right.
The exterior is pretty much intact. Once we got the bar out we were hoping it would come back to life once we sanded it down, and it really did. (We're still doing the shot and a beer for locals!) The kitchen is in the same place, too. People already know how to use this space—it has certain patterns and energy flow that work."
❱❱ Larry McGuire, owner of Clark's Oyster Bar, which opened last week in the former location of Little Annie's Eating House
ASPEN IS…A LIFESTYLE
"I miss it terribly. My main motivation for moving away was cost of living. I miss the outdoors—skiing, foraging, mountain biking, swimming in the Punchbowl—the quality of life, the landscape, the farmers, the atmosphere. My 6-year-old misses it, too."
❱❱ Christopher Randall, former executive chef of the Limelight Hotel (2017-2018) and chef at The Pullman (2013-2017), now chef at Fahrenheit Restaurant in Charlotte, N.C.
ASPEN IS…THE COOLEST SMALL TOWN IN THE WORLD
"I first came to Aspen in 1976 as a kid straight out of high school, and I was blessed from day one to be raised by and associate with some of the legendary locals of Aspen: Kathy Krieger, Andre, DeDe Brinkman, Chris Hanson, Ron Hodge, Hunter Thompson and Bob Rafelson, among others. I've rented and owned, in the trailer park, Conundrum, West Buttermilk. It was my second home when I lived in L.A. and New York; now it's my one and only home. I've long considered myself a local.
What gives Aspen its uniqueness more than any place is this amazing collection of people—individual, rugged, artistic, local personalities that mix seamlessly with some of the most highbrow, exclusive and famous personalities in the world. They do it in the smallest confines of a gondola car…in the great places of Aspen of the past (Andres, The Tippler). I'm hoping 7908 will be a celebration of the supper club tradition, reinvented for the organic, societal mix that Aspen has already."
❱❱ Roger Wilson, owner of 7908, opening in July
[Photo by Anna Stonehouse]
"Over the top, foodie food is not super popular in this town. We have an affluent clientele, but they are into a simpler style of eating. Maybe because we're so active here, we don't want massive meals. I try to keep it well-rounded yet push the envelope a bit, too. Signatures are important, but there's a lot of product changing on a weekly and daily basis in between."
❱❱ Barclay Dodge, chef-owner of Bosq, celebrating its third summer
[Photo by Anna Stonehouse]
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