Food Matters: The Next Episode
December 29, 2016
GATHERED AROUND the Christmas dinner table, my family peered at me intently as I regaled them with a story of a recent kitchen experiment. It wasn't much of a story, though, since the "wine in a blender" trick is as complex as it sounds: Dump a bottle of cheap(ish) wine into a Vitamix, blitz on the fastest setting for 30 seconds, and then, when froth subsides, enjoy a smooth, mellowed quaff absent of harsh, tannic qualities. It's called "hyperdecanting," a speedy shortcut for impatient imbibers.
"Well, you'd only do that with a young, inexpensive bottle," my uncle said. We were sipping a 1998 vintage plucked from his impressive cellar, perhaps acquired on a tour of France long ago. I held back from adding that a few pulses would likely benefit any wine, regardless of age (lifehacking granddaddy Tim Ferriss notes in the "The Four Hour Chef" that 30 seconds on frappé equates to three hours in a decanter) but I stopped myself. Even Nathan Myhrvold, French chef and author of the "Modernist Cuisine" encyclopedia — the man credited with this radical idea — told Ferriss that he tried the technique on wine gifted to him from Spanish royalty.
While visiting my other aunt and uncle and cousins in Denver over Thanksgiving — all of them perennial athletes in the Mile High Turkey Trot — I was happy to learn that my health-conscious cousin Brian was on a trendy liquid kick: Golden milk, also called turmeric tea. This caffeine-free beverage is a slow-cooked combination of almond milk, coconut oil, honey, ginger, black pepper, and turmeric — the latter spice imbuing the elixir with its trademark yellow-gold color.
Revered by Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties have driven its popularity in America, where turmeric "vitality shots" are sold at a pretty penny in exchange for promising to soothe achy joints, brighten sallow skin, and boost digestion and immunity. I hadn't made the earthy, spicy drink for a while, so I was thankful for the reintroduction — it's a soothing, pre-bedtime beverage on cold winter nights after thrashing knees and hips all day on the mountain.
Recently the National Restaurant Association (NRA) unveiled its list of top trends predictions for 2017, based on data submitted by 1,300 professional chefs. While most of them seem fairly obvious and uninspired — see "#5: Sustainable seafood" and #9: Heirloom fruits and vegetables" — it's exciting to learn that ethnic foods, and African flavors, especially, are gaining popularity.
So, in the same spirit of innovation and exploration, here's more to anticipate in the coming year:
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BARBECUE…AND MORE BARBECUE!
As if news of the new Home Team BBQ, which opened in the Inn at Aspen earlier this month under the leadership of Cache Cache executive chef Chris Lanter (his former roommate at the University of Georgia, Aaron Siegel, started the independent chain in Charleston, S.C., currently home to three other locations), wasn't enough to tempt meat-candy enthusiasts, Slow Groovin' BBQ announced its wintertime expansion to Snowmass Village. The outpost, located in the space most recently occupied by Turk's (Mountain Dragon before that), is slated to open on Wednesday, Dec. 28.
Now fans of slow-roasted meats (pulled pork, dry-rubbed chicken, smoked turkey, and beef brisket at Home Team; St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, sausage, salmon, and turkey smoked on hickory and fruit wood at Slow Groovin'), small-batch sauces made in-house, and sassy sides (fried okra, anyone?) have double the options to explore in the New Year. All hail our local pitmasters!
Chef Vinnie and wife, Xuan, owners of Bamboo Bear in the old Johnny McGuire's spot across from City Market, have been toiling away for months now, and word is spreading at long last. Portions are huge, and the couple's family recipe pho broth is on point. The grilled pork bánh mì and massive rice noodle salad are favorites — but be sure to check the specials board offering creative spins on traditional dishes. A favorite spread — the Korean Bulgogi BBQ beef platter with broken rice, kimchi, marinated bean sprouts, and large leaves of Bibb lettuce for wrapping it all together into little handheld torpedos of savory goodness — is enough to share with a friend or save for a second meal.
Further afield, on the shadowy backside of Snowmass Base Village, is the new Sake restaurant, promising Pan Asian cuisine and sushi. I know what you're thinking: This is at least the fourth Asian concept to inhabit the space within view of the Elk Camp Gondola, around the corner and a stone's throw from Slice pizzeria. But it seems as if each iteration has brought modest improvement — I bartended at the bootstrap operation called Burger Bar + Fish circa 2012 to 2013, so I feel comfortable making that judgment.
Considering this new eatery's expanded booth seating and simple menu of craveable fare—duck wings, pork ramen, yakisoba noodles, Mongolian beef, Szechuan shrimp — Sake might stick…as long as a solid management and marketing team guides it.
Notoriously starved for ethnic fare and street food — two top 2017 trends according to the National Restaurant Association — Aspenites often must travel to Denver to get a fix. Though there's no indication that mobile food trucks will roll into town anytime soon, a few venues are entertaining foreign flavors through special, one-night-only events. The Little Nell's Guest Chef Dinner Series continues this winter: Brazilian chef Thomas Troisgros on Jan. 28; Peruvian chef Jaime Pesaque on Feb. 9; and, for the second year, Swedish chef Håkan Thörnström on March 23. Tickets are in short supply.
New this year: the Cooking School of Aspen has launched a new series, Plated, featuring six to 10 courses prepared by a visiting chef. The venue promises to "[tear] down the barriers between the backstage of the kitchen and the performances of plating and service." Be on the lookout for a meal by Chicago chef Philip Foss's Michelin-starred EL Ideas in February, as well as ongoing classes exploring Cajun/Creole, Spanish, and Indian cookery.
I heard through the grapevine that these green thistles sprout from a planter near or on City Hall grounds. Though certainly buried in snow right now, Aspen artichokes — or simply the rumor of them growing in town — are worth uncovering come spring. Stay tuned….
Happy New Year!
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