High Points: Little Nell chef a local hero | AspenTimes.com

High Points: Little Nell chef a local hero

Paul E. Anna
High Points
The Little Nell culinary cirector Matt Zubrod
Courtesy Dallas & Harris Photography

Every once in a while, and it seems that the “once-in-a-whiles” get farther apart all the time, there is a story in the paper that makes you smile. Such was the case this past Tuesday when Kimberly Nicoletti penned a piece about an initiative undertaken by the august Little Nell hotel to prepare lunches for local school children.

Now, the Nell is known as one of the finest hotel and dining establishments in the country. The signature restaurant, Element 47, not only holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award, but the kitchen, under the auspices of culinary director Matt Zubrod, is renowned for the innovative cuisine it has on offer for the hotel’s upscale clientele. This past summer season, the dinner menu at Element 47 featured intricate and unique dishes, such as Wagyu beef with cauliflower, shishitos, mushrooms, olives, and beef jus for a mere $72, and a snapper served with ratatouille and salsa verde for $58. Hardly for the faint of heart or light of wallet.

But, Chef Zubrod, whom I have known and admired for many years here in Aspen, is also a man of the people and a great local asset. This program is in keeping with his long-standing approach of integrating the hotel into the community, and vice versa.

While the Nell has shuttered its doors this off-season for two weeks before it welcomes guests back for Thanksgiving and the upcoming ski season, the banquet kitchen in the hotel will be buzzing as J1 Visa students, who have arrived at the hotel, prepare fresh meals for students at three local schools in the Aspen School District. This arrangement helps the Nell by providing mandated hours for the incoming J1 visa workers who will be here working in the hotel through the season and, at the same time, helps out the school district, which itself has staffing issues. It is the perfect win-win and is an example of how this community thrives when it works together.

“With the school district struggling with staffing, I felt this was an opportunity to give back to the kids and the community with fresh meals for two weeks while The Little Nell is closed,” said Zubrod. And, according to Nicoletti’s article, the Nell is covering the main costs of the meals.

The meals themselves inspire envy from foodies in town who would love to be students for the next couple of weeks, just so they could eat the lunches that will be provided. Sure, there is the occasional mac and cheese, but how about a lunch featuring chicken coq au vin with buttered noodles and haricot verte or an orange chicken stir fry medley with fried rice? Sounds reservation worthy.

Aspen is built around its community of givers and nonprofits. The work of the Lift Up Aspen Pantry, “which provides help to those facing food emergencies by offering equitable food security for individuals and families, educating, building understanding and support to end hunger from Parachute to Aspen,” immediately comes to mind when considering this issue.

But, the initiative undertaken by a private entity, the Little Nell, and the work of Zubrod and his team is something special.

It just makes you smile.