While challenges remain, Heritage Fire’s return to Snowmass a sign the food scene is healing
The sold-out ensemble of food lovers who attended Saturday’s Heritage Fire event in Snowmass Base Village came hungry. And not necessarily for the seemingly endless array of meat — there was certainly plenty of that to go around — but for the ambience.
For many wandering about the Snowmass lawn, the last time they had attended a food festival like Heritage Fire came before the coronavirus pandemic nearly destroyed the restaurant industry. Being able to experience the passion of so many foodies in one place at one time, in person, has been rare and Heritage Fire’s return helped satiate that hunger.
“It’s sold out and then some. The demand is so high for this,” said Matt Zubrod, culinary director and chef for The Little Nell. “People are just hungry for something fun and different.”
Heritage Fire in Snowmass, which is part of Agency21 and Cochon555’s national tour that also has stops in Napa and Miami this year, returned Saturday after last year’s event was canceled because of the pandemic. Usually held on the same weekend as the Food & Wine Classic earlier in the summer, although not affiliated with the event in any way, Heritage Fire is a “live fire festival” and outdoor feast focused on all sorts of different meat.
At its core, it’s a celebration of food and Saturday’s event was even more than that, considering how much the industry has struggled this past year.
“I’m so happy to be here again, to participate, to have an amazing day with everybody,” said Oscar Padilla of Denver’s Toro Latin Kitchen, whose offerings included rabbit and octopus. “I understand right now Snowmass is sold out. Everybody from around the United States is here for this event. That’s why people love it and what everybody wants. We are ready. We are back. Heritage Fire is back.”
More than 650 tickets were sold to Saturday’s cookout, where more than 2,500 pounds of meat was set to be consumed. Goya Foods and the Denver-based Seattle Fish Co. were two of the primary suppliers, although many Roaring Fork Valley entities helped keep products as fresh and as local as possible. Numerous local restaurants were among those who helped feed the masses.
“To be separated from everybody for over the last year and a half and struggling with the to-go’s and all the changes in the industry and the evolution that’s been a part of this, to be able to come back together and just cook some local food and some local veggies over the fire on the mountain, it’s a dream come true,” said Michael Rutherford, executive sous chef for the South Carolina-based Home Team BBQ, which also has a restaurant at the base of Buttermilk Ski Area. “It’s really what it’s all about. It’s the passion that we all have. There is no competition with the Heritage Fire, which I really love. It’s just a bunch of chefs coming together and expressing ideas and expressing flavors and showing a love for each other.”
Rutherford lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for about a dozen years before relocating to South Carolina just before the onset of the pandemic. When given the chance to return to Snowmass for Heritage Fire, even if just for a few days, it was too much for him to pass up.
He admits the pandemic has been difficult on restaurants and chefs, but also sees the silver lining that came with the challenges of the past year.
Photos: Heritage Fire 2021
“I haven’t seen it as a depressing thing. I’ve actually attacked it head on,” Rutherford said. “I’ve been real positive toward all this. People had a chance to sit at home and read and wonder and think and dream and we are seeing a lot of those ideas come out now.”
Events like Heritage Fire coming back to life — and even the return of the Food & Wine Classic to Aspen in September — is a sign the food and restaurant industry is on the rebound. However, many hurdles still remain, such as a limited labor force, but the demand is certainly there after the pandemic’s long shutdown of the social and high-end food scene.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but if you are open minded, I think you can make it happen,” Zubrod said. “It’s interesting how fine dining was kind of dying and now all of a sudden you can sell it every night at $150 prix fixe menu in town and you can’t find a reservation right now if you tried in Aspen.”
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