Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series about vin48 in Avon. Check back next week for part two.
By Suzanne Hoffman
Behind the Scenes
On Christmas Day 2007, unbeknownst to most everyone, including many economists, the post-9/11 period of economic prosperity was taking its final breaths. With an economic tempest brewing, Vin48, in Avon, served its first customers that snowy Christmas. Beaver Creek's slopes, seen from the restaurant's expansive floor-to-ceiling windows, was already blanketed with 68 inches of snow. All forecasts pointed to a banner ski season, making it the perfect time to launch the new restaurant. Or so everyone thought.
But reality was cruel, and soon the economy fell into a deep chasm, the bottom of which we have yet to see. The snow came back Christmas 2008, but the flocks of tourists didn't. In an industry fraught with failure, Vin48's three owners, restaurateur Collin Baugh, sommelier Greg Eyon and executive chef Charles Hays, were facing historic economic uncertainties.
Through its first five years, the restaurant flew through the eye of the storm and survived the turbulence not only of a bad economy, but Mother Nature's refusal to grant good snow for two consecutive seasons. Local residents and tourists alike came to love Hays' "creative American" cuisine, giving the restaurant sound footing to weather the economic storm and the lack of the meteorological kind.
Starting with a starter
I went behind the scenes on Valentine's Day when lovers' and other strangers' names filled the reservation list. It was going to be a busy night for romantic dining.
My day at Vin48 started at 1 p.m. Hays asked, "how does this go?" with regard to my working behind the scenes. After a year of consistent articles, chefs are still a little unsure of where I can fit and do the least damage in their kitchens. In Vin48's tiny kitchen, there aren't many places to fit another soul.
On a prep area not much bigger than my cutting board, Hays set me up with a tub of Laura's soft goat cheese. My assignment? Prepare breaded goat cheese squares for the restaurant's wildly popular fried goat cheese starter. Although Hays is always changing the salad, the crispy, panko-coated goat cheese is a mainstay.
refilled, gloves changed for the fourth time. I was able to finish and get the tray to the walk-in before the cheese lost its shape.
Rabbit, the other conﬁt
Although rabbit is as common as chicken in Europe, Americans still struggle with the idea of eating Flopsy. One of the most popular dishes at Splendido in Beaver Creek is chef David Walford's rabbit, no matter the seasonal preparation. Chef Nick Haley, of Zino's in Edwards, recently served up rabbit cacciatore to rave reviews. But I'm one of those people where it sticks in my throat. So when Hays presented me with a large bowl of rabbit confit, I suddenly had a PETA moment.
Pushing thoughts of a furry, white bunny out of my mind, I made quick work of striping the tasty meat from the bones. "It's not rabbit," I kept telling myself. "It's going to be chef's rabbit trio." There was no way I was going to admit to Hays how bothered I was about the task. With Hays next to me, working on the evening's veal and foie gras ravioli special, I peppered him with questions about how to make ravioli. There was no knife involved in my task, so I could watch Hays without fear of whacking off an important digit. It helped.
Ravioli to live for
Even if your first experience with ravioli was Chef Boyardee's concoction, I'm certain you love ravioli. It's a big jump from the gummy stuff in a can to Hay's soft, flavor-packed pasta pillows. People often refer to dishes as something "to die for." But Hays' ravioli is definitely something to live for and enjoy!
I watched as Hays made quick work of running the increasingly thin sheets of flour and egg through the pasta roller. Out came a ravioli maker, a 24-hole aluminum pan over which a sheet of pasta was laid. Then came pinches of filling in each well. Nothing goes to waste at Vin48. Veal short rib and foie gras was leftover from another special, so it became this heavenly filling for ravioli that would later be plated with Hays' sublime mushroom consume. Classic Italian. Simple and delicious.
Over the filling came another sheet of pasta and then all were cut and sealed simultaneously. The special pan is really not necessary, but it ensures that the ravioli are uniform in size and that each raviolo has the same amount of filling.
Before I realized it, the rabbit pieces had been stripped of what truly was delicious meat that didn't stick in my throat and the evening's allotment of ravioli had been completed. And once again, Hays disappeared.
As I said, the kitchen is tiny. Not many places for an idle novice to be out of the way. Not far from me, the dishpit was already seeing lots of action as the day's prepping ended and evening service was being readied. The sous vide at my station was increasingly in demand. It was time for me to get out of everyone's way and seek cover.
I found refuge at the expansive bar that has become the restaurant's signature spot. During the family meal at the bar, Eyon was instructing some of the area's most wine-savvy servers on one of the night's special wines, 2011 Jean-Claude Lapalu Brouilly. With a glass of Beaujolais in hand and resting comfortably at the bar, I was happy to take a breather before the evening of romantic dining began. But work, not romance, was ahead for the Vin48 team.
Suzanne Hoffman is a local attorney and Chambellan Provincial of the Southwest Region and Bailli (president) of the Vail chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs. She is a passionate gastronome. For more background information on her "Behind the Scenes" series, go to www.facebook.com/vailvalleysecrets. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patiently, as he is with everything, Hays showed me the end product and how to achieve it. The efficiency required in a restaurant kitchen dictates finishing each step before moving onto the next. First, I weighed 1.5-ounce globs - good technical term - of cheese and then rolled them into balls. With the parchment-covered sheet tray teetering on the edge of the counter, I quickly filled the tray with about 28 balls. Onto the second stage: molding. That proved to be a challenge as the cheese began to soften, changing from Playdough-like consistency to something more akin to Greek yogurt. It was an incentive to work quickly and get on to breading the squares.
In my ever-shrinking workspace, Hays set out bowls of egg, flour and panko. Then he disappeared. Oh my! Was it egg first, then flour, or the other way around? I tried the egg first, but only once. I realized that was the wrong order. By now, I had to put my sheet pan on the sous vide machine to make space on the counter. I was alone with my cheese and a fast disappearing bowl of flour and egg.
I'm not a timid person, but when I'm a stranger in a kitchen and can barely remember names much less where everything is located, I turn into a wallflower. Normally I can find my way around, but I wasn't sure what flour Hays had used or where exactly I could find the eggs. I finally found my voice and flagged down the sous chef, Michael "Noodles" Nothelfer. Quickly my bowls were