ASPEN - It takes three days just to make the pommes frites - also known as French fries - at the Chef's Club by Food & Wine in Aspen.And you can't simply order the pommes frites as a side dish. The only way to experience the most perfectly fried potatoes that will ever cross your lips is to order the "Properly Butchered Rib Steak" - a $62 dish.But it's worth it - so, so worth it. To call it proper - as pretentious as that may sound when reading a restaurant's dinner menu - actually doesn't do the dish justice. Calling the dish exquisite or flawless gets closer to reality.Food & Wine Magazine has created Chef's Club, at the St. Regis Aspen Resort, as a spin-off of its Food & Wine Classic in Aspen that brings some of the world's most accomplished and up-and-coming chefs together each summer. In addition to the annual foodie paradise tasting event, Chef's Club now means that Food & Wine Magazine and the wonderful chefs it features and honors each year are shining in a permanent Aspen spotlight. The concept is to bring the pages of the magazine to life by allowing the winners of its "Best New Chef" award to create the menu. Four to eight of those previous award-winners are chosen about twice a year to create a menu full of variety and imagination.The result is a dining experience that may sound gimmicky at first, but it hits every point of service so spot-on that anything gimmicky about it is quickly lost in the quality and commitment to make dining here an experience that's unforgettable for all the right reasons.
The Food & Wine Classic has been kicking off the summer season in Aspen for more than 30 years, so the relationship between the magazine and Colorado ski towns is hardly new. There's been somewhat of a resurgence, though, recently, with the addition of Chef's Club as well as the Food & Wine Weekend in Beaver Creek, which replaced a Bon Appetit-sponsored culinary event a couple of years ago. The magazine hosts nearly 20 events throughout the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean annually.At next weekend's Food & Wine Weekend in Beaver Creek, 19 chefs are participating in the grand tasting, 15 of which are local Beaver Creek chefs including David Walford from Splendido, Jay McCarthy from the Chophouse, Daniel Joly from Mirabelle and Kirk Weems from Allie's Cabin, said Christina Grdovic, publisher of Food & Wine Magazine."Colorado has an exciting food scene with very talented chefs and sommeliers," Grdovic said when asked why the mountains and Food & Wine pair so well together. "I'm excited that Denver's Alex Seidel (of Fruition), a Food & Wine Best New Chef (named in 2010), is joining us this year (in Beaver Creek)."The relationship with Food & Wine is something Beaver Creek Resort Company Executive Director Tim Baker said the resort values. He said the event attracts guests from all over the country and the hope is for that destination business to continue to grow. "(Food & Wine brings) so much to this event in terms of creativity and talent and creating events that incorporate our own Beaver Creek talent, creativity and unique assets, it makes for a truly special culinary event," Baker said via email. "We will always continue to grow and evolve the event especially to keep it fresh and relevant, yet at the same time, part of the Beaver Creek appeal is the intimate nature of the weekend." Food & Wine's intention for its events, as well as its magazine content, is "to always add more talent and new ideas to keep the experience exciting and fresh," Grdovic said. That's the direction that any evolution of the Beaver Creek Food & Wine weekend evolution would head.As for whether Beaver Creek could get a Chef's Club of its own, Grdovic won't say."We're very pleased with the success of our inaugural Chefs Club by Food & Wine at the St. Regis in Aspen. There are plans to expand Chefs Club by Food & Wine across the country (although there is no news to announce about locations just yet)," Grdovic wrote. "Chefs Club by Food & Wine is an innovative concept that could work in other locations because our focus is on showcasing the most notable chefs and restaurants in the country who all share the honor of being named Best New Chefs by Food & Wine."
Currently, Chef's Club is featuring cuisine by Food & Wine award-winning chefs Jenn Louis, of Portland, Ore., Kevin Willmann, of St. Louis, Mo., Jonathon Sawyer, of Cleveland, and Matthew Lightner, of New York City.And the servers who bring you the chef's masterful creations are impressively professional. These are men and women who love the craft of cooking and dining, and they can describe the preparation of every single dish as if they prepared it themselves. Our waiter, Gordon, was certainly the creme of the crop.Back to the pommes frites, one of Sawyer's dishes. Gordon describes the process in detail, from the in-house aging of the steak to the process of making the fries. You'd think the steak is the highlight of the dish - and it is truly a properly prepared piece of beef that will satisfy carnivore purists - but the fries are what deliver such a shock. I mean, they're French fries. How could they possibly be this good?"The French fries alone take three days," Gordon explains in his beautiful English accent. "They hand-cut the French fries, they boil them, air-dry them, then they fry them, then let them rest, fry them a second time to put the crisp on the outside. Thirty seconds from being done they pull them out and add rosemary and garlic into the basket, throw the basket back in for a 10 count, and the aromas of the rosemary and garlic fluff through the fries."He describes Willmann's tuna tartare, made untraditionally with a pear vanilla puree, with love."When you put soy sauce (in a tartare) it accentuates its meatiness, but when you mix it with a fruit component, it accentuates how delicate tuna can be," Gordon says.He even explains the amuse bouche - a two-bite dish - with impressive detail, including how the scallop is vacuum-sealed with sake lees in a refrigerator for 24 hours to develop a back-end flavor that mirrors the taste of a fine, cold glass of sake.This is how fine dining is done.Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.