VAIL - Executive Chef Paul Anders loves cooking at Sweet Basil, but his job is about to get a little sweeter as he prepares to cook the same high quality food without a lot of fine dining fuss.
Anders is taking on the role as executive chef of Mountain Standard, a new restaurant in the former Blu's space below Sweet Basil. Anders, executive chef at Sweet Basil, too, will oversee the kitchens at both restaurants, likely putting in many long weeks this winter as the new place gets rolling.
Mountain Standard is the brainchild of Sweet Basil owners Matt Morgan and Kevin Clair. They're ditching the white table cloths and instead focusing on a different vibe.
"Dining, as a whole, has become more casual," Clair said. "We wanted to capitalize on the success of Sweet Basil but provide our guests with a more casual atmosphere and dining experience with Mountain Standard. We believe the two restaurants will be a great complement to one another."
Morgan showed local media the new space Wednesday. Blu's Restaurant was totally gutted and expanded into the space next-door making the once 2,600-square-foot space into a 3,800-sqare-foot space. Sweet Basil got a little upgrade out of the deal, too, with an outdoor area that now expands off the main dining room into a patio overlooking Gore Creek.
"This is the first time in 28 years (next spring) that we'll actually have a patio to the creek," Morgan said. "We're pretty happy about that."
Downstairs, the construction was a bit more involved. Morgan said the building was old and there were some "inconsistencies and some unknowns" in terms of infrastructure, so they figured it would be best to just rip it all up.
"(Crews) drove a bobcat with a jackhammer on the front and took out the entire concrete floor," Morgan said. "For two weeks, we were talking on dirt."
All that work should pay off, though, as the space is coming together nicely. An open kitchen featuring a wood-burning grill and rotisserie will serve as the centerpiece of the restaurant.
Reading the fire
That's what gets Anders the most excited. He loves his gig at Sweet Basil and always will, but he gets giddy when he talks about cooking over an open fire.
"That's by far the most exciting thing," Anders said. "The ancient nature of cooking that way is really cool for a chef because it's very organic in that you don't just turn on a burner and you know how high it's going or how low it's going, you have to actually kind of read your fire and feel your fire. You've got to be a little more nimble, so it's a big challenge."
It's a challenge that Anders has been working on for months. He said he had about 100 potential menu items that have now been whittled down to about 35, including things like a Tender Belly pork shoulder porchetta - fatty, moist pork roast - or rotisserie chicken with creamy wild rice and lemon herb gravy.
"We're trying to do Sweet Basil quality, but do it in a different, more casual way," Anders said. "As chefs, the chef team at Basil, for a long time we found ourselves wanting to cook more rustic style of food. Sometimes when you do fine dining for a long time you just get a little tire of the pretense, a little tired of the foo-foo and this that and the other, so food that we want to eat as chefs - food that we would want to have on a nightly basis, but still using that Sweet Basil kind of quality."
Anders wears his passion for cooking right on his sleeve - well his forearm, actually. He has a tattoo of a cow, pig and a duck all showing the various butcher cuts on each animal.
"It's the holy trinity of meat," Anders said.
The pig tattoo is what inspired the logo for Mountain Standard, and pig is the animal featured in at least five or six menu items, he said. He also envisions having a Sunday suckling pig night celebrating an animal so delicious that Anders said it's "impossible" to figure out which cut he likes best.
The ideas are always running through his and Chef de Cuisine Brian Brouillard's minds - another reason why having new cooking equipment in a new setting is so exciting for them, Anders said. Brouillard will head up the kitchen at Mountain Standard as chef de cuisine once it opens and has been a big part of creating the menu, too.
"You get pure flavor when cooking over fire," Brouillard said. "We plan to offer menu selections that are simply prepared - sometimes with only three or four ingredients. We plan to keep the menu simple and straight forward, which is really the way I love to cook."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.