An epicurean outpost
February 15, 2014
Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series. Check back next week to read more.
Five a.m. comes early on a cold, snowy winter day. For the many who man Vail Valley's restaurant kitchens, the hour passes unnoticed. Only a few hours earlier, they crawled into their warm beds following a midday-to-midnight workday. They will continue their slumber, unless of course it's a powder day. But for those who feed hungry skiers at on-mountain restaurants of Vail and Beaver Creek resorts, the arrival of lunch crowds is only six hours away. Time to rise.
Each morning at 7 a.m., from opening day before Thanksgiving until the final runs of the season, one group of chefs, prep cooks and support staff brave the cold and climb into cabins of Gondola One in Vail Village for the final 2,000 feet of their commute. Their destination — Mid-Vail and The 10th, a restaurant named for the storied 10th Mountain Division from which Vail's founders emerged.
In December 2011, Vail Resorts opened The 10th, thereby re-introducing "upscale" dining to Vail Mountain. The 10th quickly satisfied the demand for a venue where skiers could relax, take off their boots and feel the warm comfort of slippers, while dining peacefully in their own space. Now, open daily in the ski season for lunch, apres ski and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays, The 10th's success has exceeded expectations.
The opening of the modern 13,000-square-foot restaurant in the waning days of the economic downturn fell to the team of general manager George Bigley and Executive Chef Paul Wade. Wade, nationally known and respected as a gifted culinary artist, is in his element when facing the challenges of designing new food concepts, opening restaurants, or turning around flailing ones. The 10th proved to be the perfect challenge for him.
A recent chat with Wade provided insight on The 10th's nascent days. Thanks to Brian Austin and Douglas Dodd, Wade had access to Arrabelle's kitchens where testing dishes, creating recipes and developing bread concepts took shape. Despite only a 2,000-foot difference, many of these recipes, particularly bread, needed tweaking once The 10th's culinary team took residence in their new kitchen.
After much testing and input from Vail Resorts executives and his fellow 10th teammates, Wade arrived at a slightly Italian-influenced bistro concept he describes as "warm and fuzzy, but edgy, comfort food."
It's not a small feat to create a successful new dining experience in such an environment. Since deliveries involve much more than simply driving a truck to the site; logistics created major issues. Planning was — and remains — of paramount importance for transporting goods and people to and from the site. Wade attributes The 10th's opening success to teamwork and ingenuity of everyone involved in the project — from Vail Resort's own construction team to the lifties and their "let's get 'er done" attitude — under Vail Resort's leadership.
The 10th's culinary captain
In October 2012, Vishwatej (Vishu) Nath stepped into the Executive Chef position and has been at the helm since. From the early days of The 10th when the aging Vista Bahn was the only transport available on those frigid winter mornings to today's restaurant accessible by Gondola One with heated seats and Wi-Fi, The 10th evolved and improved. Wade proudly credits Nath and his current team for taking the concept to the next level.
I met Nath in January 2012 at Allie's Cabin. Nath was in Beaver Creek to lend a hand to Executive Chef Kirk Weems who was hosting John Besh and his team during the Food & Wine Weekend. I was there trying not to be a nuisance while soaking up as much as possible. A year later, on Feb. 13th, as a cold, wet snow fell I climbed aboard a Gondola One cabin jammed with skiers and ascended the mountain to take my place on Nath's team at what has become an epicurean outpost the mountain.
I felt guilty that my teammates' workday began at 7 a.m. while mine started at 10, but scheduling conflicts prevented me from having the early start I desired. My goal is not simply to appear, chop up a few things, stir a few pots, disappear and go home to write an article. I strive to be the voice of the people hidden behind the scenes. Mimicking their experience enables me to better tell their stories.
When I arrived, staff meal was beginning. Chef Nath invited me to grab something to eat, but I was eager to work and certainly didn't feel I earned the right to join them in a meal. We made our way to his office through the kitchen's nerve center — a maze of stations and production lines — past boxes of produce that would be consumed quickly by the hundreds of diners served each day. Although a lowered sunscreen obscured the view, I could see the busy slopes funneling skiers into the bases of Chairs 3 and 4. I'd take that small, cramped space over a Manhattan corner office any day!
Getting to know Nath better was my first order of business. His culinary travels from Hyderabad, India to Vail intrigued me, and I wanted to share them with my readers.
Passage from India
Nath's culinary DNA is a fusion of disparate cultures. Born to a Hindu father and Roman Catholic mother, Nath and his brother grew up in a rich, diverse cultural environment perfect for exploring different food trends. Nath reminisced, saying, "There was always a party at home. Always a holiday to celebrate." That melange of epicurean cultures no doubt influences Nath's style today.
Nath's grandmother and father nurtured his culinary aspirations. From a young age, Nath made pizzas at home, cooked with his grandmother who seemingly lived in the kitchen and learned from his father who ran a successful catering company. His mother on the other hand, coached the women's national basketball team and eschewed life in the kitchen.
Both Nath and his brother Ravitej became successful executive chefs. In his environment, Nath explained, their career choices were limited to pilot, doctor or engineer. None of those appealed to him or his brother, but his love of science merged with his epicurean curiosity, guiding him to culinary arts.
From India, Nath traveled to Switzerland to study culinary arts at the renowned Institut Hotelier Cesar Ritz steps from Lake Geneva in Le Bouveret. Upon completion of his studies in 2003, Nath continued his westward career track to the United States, through San Diego, Las Vegas, Florida and eventually Vail Resorts Grand Teton Lodge Company where Nath's life as a Vail Resorts culinary professional began.
Nath considers The 10th to be "the pinnacle of Vail Resorts' dining venues." He clearly loves his work and the opportunity to create modern alpine cuisine with a touch of Indian influences. With his toolkit full from a prestigious culinary education, management experience, mentoring from Eric Pottorff, Mike Fiery and Paul Wade, Nath delivers a transcendental dining experience in a magical location.
Now, you've met Nath and the restaurant he calls his culinary home. Join me next week as I take my place in The 10th's kitchen with chef Nath's talented team of culinary professionals. In the meantime, don't miss the opportunity to enjoy The 10th. Nath's lunch, apres ski and dinner menus will tempt you to return again and again until you've explored all the restaurant has to offer.
Suzanne Hoffman is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. Her blogs are http://www.suziknowsbest.com and http://www.winefamilies.com. Email comments about this story to email@example.com.
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