Food Matters: 22 Tastes of Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Food Matters: 22 Tastes of Basalt

by Amanda Rae

Twenty-two restaurants, caterers, and food purveyors; 10 wine, beer, and spirits sponsors; more than 175 silent auction items; 400 well-heeled guests; two talented school clubs; and one massive dance party to celebrate a well-deserved cause: The 22nd annual Taste of Basalt was one of the most enjoyable events I've attended anywhere in the valley in recent memory. Held last Saturday, Nov. 4, at the posh Roaring Fork Club in Basalt — historically one of only two charity events for which the private venue opens its doors to the public each year — the Taste of Basalt recalls the excitement of the Food & Wine Classic but boiled down to an intimate, less-chaotic level of local community. It's the nonprofit Basalt Education Foundation's most significant fundraiser, benefiting the town's three public schools to the tune of $100,000 or more.

The promise of ample food and drink is enough to lure me downvalley no matter the occasion, but the opportunity to chat with chefs, owners and suppliers behind more than two dozen Basalt businesses in the field is a bonus treat. As one acquaintance I keep bumping into remarks, the Taste of Basalt offers a chance to visit all of his neighborhood's eateries in one swoop. (Caring for three young children, he notes, leaves little time or energy for dining out.)

The food showcased a true trip around the best of Basalt. Chef Patrick Kennedy of Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar prepared a hearty dish using puréed heirloom squash as a thick, smooth base for chicken curry. Capitol Creek Brewery threw down with an open-faced slider of mojo pork on an herbed biscuit with CCB Porter barbecue sauce. (Find the glaze elsewhere on the menu at the Willits tasting room and restaurant.) Fusion Catering delighted with creamy coconut red curry with vegetables, steamed mussels optional.

Tempranillo showcased heritage pork from pigs raised on 13 acres in Missouri Heights. Mezzaluna Willits impressed more than a few salmon-averse attendees (myself included) with silky salmon tartare in lemon custard.

An amuse bouche of deviled eggs by Smoke Modern Barbeque led the way to charred brisket, sliced nearly to order into overstuffed sliders, for topping with pickles, onion and five signature sauces as desired. (One tipsy passerby remarked that the blackened slabs of meat, pulled from the smoker after some 16 hours by founder and executive chef Jamie Theriot, resembled chocolate cake on first glance — ha!)

One of the most buzzed-about bites came courtesy of newcomer Tiny Chef Creations. The wife-and-husband catering outfit layered smoked-brisket tacos with smashed avocado, chimichurri crema and a healthy dousing of Valentina hot sauce. (We shared a swoon for the latter, a readily available Mexican import that far supersedes Cholula thanks to its complex chile flavor, probably because it's not drowning in sodium like most hot sauces.)

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Recently, Tiny Chef Creations founder AnaClarissa "AC" Norris packed up and moved cross-country from Virginia to Colorado with husband, Shaun, and young son, Harrison. One partygoer told me he felt a pang of excitement at noticing her taco station, since he tried the brisket at a birthday party elsewhere earlier that day. That's community service, folks!

The star ingredient of the evening, though, was lamb. Heather's Savory Pies & Tapas Bar produced savory shepherd's pie (creamy mashed potatoes over vegetable-studded lamb gravy); Downvalley Tavern doled out generous plates of lamb Bolognese topped with smoked ricotta and fresh basil. Allegria's rich lamb Bolognese made a perfect pillow for a crispy-creamy saffron arancini. Maraki Ethiopian Cuisine served lamb curry in burberry (Berbere) sauce to scoop up with teff injera, the spongy, slightly sour flatbread authentic to the country. (It's naturally gluten-free, too.) The chef-caterer's vegetarian-friendly lentil soup didn't stand a chance to make it to the end.

Typically I find these kinds of tasting events crowded and rushed — a mad dash to consume everything on offer as quickly as possible within a relatively short window of time. Here, however, the tasting lasted at least three hours, spread generously through the club's grand Members' Lodge, which consists of a series of stately rooms plus a covered wraparound patio. So, 20-minute conversations with strangers weren't tinged with food FOMO.

Also, it was easy to snag a sample of food, wander to a wine station and learn about possible pairings. Two surprising standouts from my personal journey: a slice of Scottie's Italian sub paired with a spicy Argentinian Malbec and miniature pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting by Sunshine & Moons organic bakery washed down with Ruggeri Giustino B. Prosecco Superiore DOCG. The friendly gent repping Jimbo's Liquors described the high-end bubbly as hailing from a Valdobbiadene vineyard in the northwestern corner of Italy, where Dolomite soil and exceptional sun exposure produce some of the most sought-after Glera grapes.

Sunshine & Moons owner and pastry chef Sarah Niebler described the arduous task of deep cleaning her kitchen a few times per month to render it a gluten-free facility. (Tuesdays are generally gluten-free days, which certain customers appreciate.) The bakery celebrates its third anniversary on Saturday, Nov. 18, with an open house featuring dessert specials from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Mostly I learned that the Taste of Basalt—which began in 1996 among a group of parents, originally held at a private home before moving to the Roaring Fork Club in 1999—is about community connection.

"Back then it was known as 'Basalt's first real dress-up party,' according to one of the handful of moms who initiated it to help raise money for the Basalt schools," explains Basalt Education Foundation executive director Kara Williams. A silent auction and dancing have always been on the program; today music plays a big role. Now the Taste of Basalt kicks off with a funky, jumping-on-tables performance by the Basalt StreetHorns, the high school band's jazzy alter ego led by Grammy Award-nominated teacher Nick Lenio. (Here it's easy to see why Lenio is credited with making band cool again.) The Basalt High School Chamber Choir sang before the event, too; later, a DJ kept the crowd shaking until we were, quite literally, herded off the dance floor.

"This is when Basalt families have their Aspen night," says Danielle Becker, a Blue Lake local and wine-pouring volunteer. That may be giving Aspen undeserved credit, though. This year, tickets to the Taste of Basalt sold out 12 days in advance—a record—proving that this food extravaganza could only find itself at home here.

amandaraewashere@gmail.com

NEED TO KNOW

Basalt Education Foundation

Learn more: basaltedu.org

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