Suzanne Hoffman
Behind the Scenes

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January 11, 2014
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Living a culinary lifestyle

Unlike many of his European peers, Mirabelle at Beaver Creek’s owner and executive chef Daniel Joly grew up apart from the culinary industry. However, having a friend whose family owned a restaurant provided the opportunity for the inquisitive Joly to taste the business.

At 14, Joly began “hanging out” in a friend’s family restaurant in Ovyrese, a suburb of Brussels, where he often worked nights. Quickly infected with a passion for the culinary arts, Joly spent time learning as much as he could, whenever he could. Today, as owner and executive chef of the renowned Beaver Creek dining gem, Joly declares he never once questioned the sanity of walking this career path.

Apprenticeship in life

It didn’t take long before Joly, the youngest of six siblings, approached his architect father about entering the prestigious Culinary Institute of Brussels. Before he would agree, the elder Joly insisted his 15-year-old aspiring chef son work as an apprentice. Joly chuckled when he recalled his father didn’t believe he’d last three weeks working full-time in a restaurant kitchen. In fact, he far surpassed those low expectations. After three years of learning the business from the ground up as an apprentice, he finally entered the Culinary Institute. He knew how to cook; however, during those two years of studies, he built the foundation to eventually own a successful restaurant.

As America’s only certified Maitre Cuisinier de Belgique — Master Chef of Belgium — Joly has taken his place as a leader in his art. His own advice to aspiring chefs? Do as he did. Work in a restaurant and decide if the heat, stress and physical labor are what you seek. After all, he chuckled, “Being a chef is not just walking around in a white jacket and shaking hands.” During the past two years working behind the scenes for my column, I’ve observed what it takes to be a chef. It’s not the make-believe world of culinary pop culture that bewitches aspiring chefs.

Although his loyal following would rather see him remain in the kitchen of his quaint historic farmhouse in Beaver Creek, Joly frequently travels to culinary festivals as a national brand ambassador for Stella Artois. It’s there Joly combines his love of food and the Belgian brew by educating both the public and other chefs on the unique pairing opportunities of beer and food.

Last year, Joly published “Chef Joly – Cooking With Beer” on Amazon. The Kindle ebook contains recipes and videos featuring Belgium’s prized drink. It’s no wonder Belgians posses such an affinity for beer. Although France and Belgium share a common history of Roman conquest with their alcoholic beverages emerging during that period, what emerged in each country was quite different.

The French have wine thanks to an agreeable climate and terrain. Further north, Belgium’s terrain and climate are ideal for growing barley and hops that, when married with the country’s high quality water, produce some of the world’s best beer. In the past millennia, Belgian cooks incorporated their prized brew in dishes to add flavor much in the same manner French cuisine utilizes vinous products. As Joly points out in his book, beer, which is 80 percent water, adds spice and flavor that enhance most any recipe. Needless to say, beer, like wine, comes with the added benefit of making the task of cooking fun if imbibed during the process.

Preserving culinary heritage

Although Joly spent the majority of his career in America and an ocean separates him from Europe, time and distance have done nothing to dampen his passion for preserving the culinary heritage of his home continent. Recently, he became the U.S. “ambassador” for Euro- Toques, an international organization created to “defend European culinary heritage.”

Before language emerged, prehistoric man had to eat. No doubt, the first conversations involved “what will we eat and how will we find it.” Sustenance is necessary for survival, but through the ages, food has transcended that basic need to become a joy and pleasure that not only defines cultures, but ties generations together. Modern production methods, however, are threatening those ties.

In 1986, already witnessing the erosion of food quality and the decline of gastronomic artisans, world-renowned chefs Pierre Romeyer of Belgium and Paul Bocuse of France created what developed into a European food lobby. It makes me wonder whether at any time in our history food needed the defense it does now.

Having lived in Europe during the expansion of the European Union’s powers, I don’t find it a coincidence that Romeyer and Bocuse took action in defense of food at that time. I recall the uproar when the EU sought to require every baguette be wrapped, a horrific concept in France, and began its war on raw milk cheese.

On its website, the organization based in the European Union’s facto capital of Brussels makes its mission clear with a 15 point “Code of Honor” that includes lofty ideals such as independence from suppliers, transparency and local food production. An 18-point list of goals advocates proper labeling of products, laws regarding wild game and the decades-old hot button issue of defending raw milk cheese production. Both lists support the proposition that the organization stands for transparency, honesty and quality. Any gastronome will find the website — www.euro-toques.org — great reading.

The real Top Chefs

Long before CNN co-founder Reese Schonfeld developed a network solely for food — now known as the “Food Network” — culinary competitions existed away from the limelight that now shines on celebrity chefs. Food Network and later Bravo helped create culinary pop culture through their own brand of competitions that bare little resemblance to competitions where celebrity amongst peers, not television audiences, is treasured.

Not to disparage talented chefs such as Stephanie Izard who emerged as culinary superstars after winning Top Chef, culinary artists who win prestigious competitions such as Bocuse d’Or (created in 1987) and Prix Culinaire Taittinger are the world’s true top chefs.

This past autumn, in Rotterdam, Joly joined 21 other chef-judges at Benelux region heat for the prestigious Prix Culinaire Taittinger. The goal of the competition created in 1967 in memory of the legendary founder of Maison de Champagne Taittinger is “to defend and promote the principles of traditional French ‘haute cuisine.’” There’s that “defend” word again.

Candidates between the ages of 24 and 39 have five hours to prepare two personal recipes based on themes the Organizing Committee and the Chair of the national jury set. Chefs are judged on their two presentations and their quality of work in the kitchen. Based on what chaos I’ve seen in the Kitchen Stadium, it’s a good thing Iron Chef judging doesn’t include this component.

Joly judged salmon and pheasant dishes, reveling in connection with the next generation’s culinary leaders. That connection is at the heart of the competition, protecting the genealogy of culinary traditions.

As you can see, Joly’s career choice isn’t just his job. It’s a conduit for sustaining his passion for culinary arts and its preservation. Whether he’s serving as a protector of culinary heritage, a spokesman for his native land’s brew, a judge of young chefs or simply creating culinary art in his cramped quarters in Beaver Creek, Joly is living a culinary lifestyle. (He even lives above his restaurant.)

Suzanne Hoffman is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. Her blogs are www.suziknowsbest.com and www.winefamilies.com. Email comments about this story to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jan 11, 2014 11:04PM Published Jan 11, 2014 11:04PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.