VAIL — “Allez cuisine!” Although Taste of Vail’s Grand Tasting is not a food-cooking competition like the renowned “Iron Chef America” on Food Network, it is a culinary spectacle that gourmands anxiously anticipate each spring. On Saturday, the gorgeously elegant Marriott ballroom hosted a food-frenzy celebration of culinary excellence, promoting dining establishments both on and off the mountain. The bustle of guests catapulted from edible delights to tempting libations, not wanting to miss one, single magical marvel of culinary creation.
And, of those distinctive tastes, live sea urchin from Hooked, of Beaver Creek, was a demonstration to behold: Chef Riley Romanin carved the flesh directly out of the spiked shell in front of the guests, rinsed and swiftly brined it, and then served the sea urchin with Sambol foam and rice cracker crumble resulting in a taste of creamy, buttery, salty freshness.
A more whimsical presentation and flavor profile came from Marriott’s culinary team, led by food and beverage director Jason Polland and the executive chef of First Chair, Roger King. The group created two utterly inimitable tastes: one lollipop of foie gras, lingonberry and toasted corn delicately wrapped in airily sweet cotton candy; and another lollipop with crisp pork belly, chocolate and chicharrons enveloped in the same lovely cotton candy. This is what culinary dreams are made of!
To celebrate First Chair at Marriott’s creatively unique flavors — lingonberry, pork belly, along with a few other flavor combinations tasted throughout the evening, I am offering a Chanterelle mushroom soup with bacon crisps and lingonberries (created by Kimi’s Mountainside Bistro in Solitude, Utah). Also, think of this recipe as an ode to the mushroom foraging that will commence in the next few months, as chef Bill Greenwood of Beano’s Cabin estimated.
Chanterelle mushroom soup
Serves 4 to 6.
6 slices apple wood-smoked bacon
1 pound fresh, frozen, dried or canned chanterelle mushrooms
4 to 5 tablespoons butter
3 shallots, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup port wine
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups beef stock or mushroom broth, low sodium
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup dried lingonberries or cranberries
3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
Cut bacon strips into 1/2-inch pieces. In a heated non-stick saute pan, cook bacon for four to six minutes or until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and cool on a paper towel-lined plate.
If mushrooms are fresh or dried, then wash in a water bath twice to make sure they are very clean. If mushrooms are dried, then boil 1 quart of water and pour over dried chanterelles. Rehydrate for 20 minutes or until they are very soft. Drain all mushrooms, whether dried, canned, fresh or frozen. Place 3/4 of the chanterelles in a food processor and pulse to small pieces.
In a saute pan over medium-high heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add chopped chanterelles, shallots and 2⁄3 of the minced garlic. Saute for eight to 10 minutes or until chanterelles are tender. Sprinkle with flour and stir until absorbed. Add port wine and simmer until reduced by half, approximately eight to 12 minutes. Add cream and stock. Simmer for 25 minutes. Add pinches of seasonings. (For added flavor, you can add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of lingonberry preserves to the soup as it is cooking.) Saute remaining chanterelles in remaining butter and minced garlic. Season with a pinch of salt.
Serving suggestion: Serve the soup warm and top with the sauteed chanterelles, crispy bacon, dried lingonberries or cranberries and sprinkle with fresh parsley. This soup is also great if served with some wonderful Swedish Limpa, rye bread.
Grand Gourmet goes on
Another favorite nibble from the Grand Tasting was from Cordillera’s Timber Hearth, a lambneck presse with pickled cabbage coulis, lettuce and fresh apple. The mint braising liquid was wonderfully bright and the apple added an unexpected tartness.
I also enjoyed The Tenth, which served an apple cider and chili braised beef short rib with ultra-creamy goat cheese and herbed mascarpone polenta, pearled vegetables and rich, braising reduction sauce. Even with an ample portion, I certainly cleaned my plate.
La Tour played on its success from last year, incorporating the Himalayan salt block curing — this year with a tender and juicy 7x Beef served atop a crispy, garlicky crostini.
Lastly, I adored the refreshing bite from Bistro Fourteen, a braised pork belly slider on a steamed bun with cucumber slaw and Asian BBQ sauce. These fresh Pacific Rim flavors were crisp and tremendously palette pleasing.
As much as all these tastes were an awakening of the senses, my taste buds needed an intermission before more bites of buffalo meatballs, scallop crudo, rabbit ragu on fluffy gnocchi, Wagu beef and a “later-in-the-evening snack” from Blue Moose Pizza: their autumn pizza with Crimini mushrooms, truffle oil, parsley, Parmesan, garlic, olive oil and goat cheese.
But, finally, in sweet summation to an evening of savories — a delicately airy lime macaroon filled with tangy lime curd and basil cream from Mountain Cupcakes, a creamy Tres Leche Cake from Two Elk and a spiked-milk martini with a warm double chocolate chip cookie from The Tenth. Thus, proving to me that culinary dreams do come true.
Jennie Iverson lives in Vail and is the author of the “Ski Town Soups” cookbook. Iverson provides insight into the culinary scene of ski towns across America. You can find more recipes and information at www.ski townsoups.com.