VAIL — In Vail, a town that seems to have more than its fair share of talented chefs creating culinary masterpieces, it’s not a question of where to eat, but rather a narrowing down of where to eat now. During the Taste of Vail, in its third decade of celebrating Vail’s culinary talent, guests have the opportunity to sip and sample from more than 30 Vail restaurants. And, while the guests certainly enjoy themselves, it’s the chefs that get to play.
Whether it’s their 10th year participating or first, chefs are excited about Taste of Vail. It’s an opportunity to be creative, showcase their signature style and, in some cases, gain bragging rights for the next 12 months.
Out of the Kitchen, Out of the Box
One of the highlights of the Taste of Vail is the outdoor locations for events. From high on the top of Vail mountain to deep in the heart of Vail Village, this event takes chefs out of their kitchen comfort zones and into the spotlight. While getting out of the kitchen can be invigorating, it can also be a challenge.
“Presenting fine dining quality food from a booth on the street or a small table on the snow is always a challenge; it pushes us to get very creative,” said chef Kelly Liken. “We create new recipes for each of the events each year. It helps keep us and our fans interested. It’s always tempting to replicate, since some of the things have been so delicious, but we resist.”
For Maya executive chef Radames Febles, who experienced Taste of Vail for the first time last year, the setting of the Mountain Top Picnic was not only a challenge — it was also a surprise.
“When they said mountaintop picnic, I thought, ‘What does that really mean?’” Febles remembered. “Then they brought me up the gondola and put me on a snowcat and drove me the rest of the way and I realized, ‘That’s what you mean by top of the mountain!’”
For Febles, the decision to participate in the Mountain Top Picnic again was an opportunity to get out of the kitchen and have a little fun with guests and other chefs.
“It’s cool for us because it’s a really fun event and we get to showcase that our food is fun,” he said. “It’s the type of exciting, casual environment that we thrive in.”
New and Notable
Perhaps one of the most anticipated events this year is the Debut of Rose, which highlights the increasingly popular rose wine and gives guests one of the first opportunities to taste the recently released 2013 roses.
“We’re excited about the rose event,” Liken said. “It will be wonderful to taste the diversity of rose and we think it will be a great way to kick off the weekend.”
Liz Rackoff, owner of Batter, is also looking forward to the Debut. This will be the third year that this handcrafted cupcake company has participated in the Taste of Vail, but this new event is creating a unique opportunity for the bakery.
“Never before have we been offered the opportunity to create bites for a specific wine varietal,” Rackoff said. “The options for rose dessert pairings are so versatile, it’s going to be hard to narrow down which flavor profiles to choose. Planning the menu is almost as exciting as executing the ingredients successfully.”
The Debut takes place on Wednesday at 3 p.m. and kicks off the 2014 Taste of Vail. Guests will have the opportunity to sample more than 100 different roses from around the world, ranging from semi-sweet to off-dry to very dry.
“We’re excited to be part of one of the year’s most memorable culinary events, the Lamb Cook-Off,” said chef Jordan Herrill, of Matsuhisu. “The energy and friendly rivalry between the local chefs always makes it a fun event for the restaurants and guests alike.”
One of the most popular events during Taste of Vail, the Colorado Lamb Cook-Off, challenges chefs to be creative with this meat, one that’s eaten worldwide and in a variety of preparations.
For chef Doug Klacik, of Bol, it’s an opportunity to surprise guests and offer a bit of humor with the dish.
“We like to have whimsy in our dishes,” Klacik said. “If I hand someone a plate of food and I explain it to them, hopefully they’re nodding their head ‘yes’ and giggling at the same time — they get it.”
Last year, Bol’s entry won third place.
“I want to surprise people. I want to be something that you haven’t tasted or heard of before,” Klacik said. “We did Bloody Mary Had a Little Lamb. We braised the lamb in bloody Marys and it was delicious and beautiful and over the top. It’s semantic humor.”