Mirabelle at Beaver Creek pulling fresh ingredients from greenhouse
July 26, 2017
There's an old photo hanging on the wall inside Mirabelle, capturing a moment in time before the building was a restaurant. It shows a simple scene of two chickens and a dirt road leading to a farmhouse.
This land, located at the bottom of Beaver Creek Mountain beyond the gates at the main entrance, was originally developed for growing, and chef-owner Daniel Joly is taking it back to its roots.
Joly and Kyle Velvis, owner of Mountain Microgreens and gardening consultant, have installed an impressive greenhouse on the property, located just behind the back door of the kitchen.
"It's so rewarding," Joly said, "within 10 steps you can go out and cut a couple leaves and then garnish a plate."
Belgian-born Joly has always cooked in a farm-to-table fashion, purchasing food from across Colorado and throughout the country.
"Now, with Kyle's help, I can grow some of the stuff right here," he said.
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Last year, after nearly 25 years of operating the French-style restaurant, Joly purchased the historic building and land from Vail Resorts. Mirabelle has always had a garden, but the abbreviated growing season is the reality of any outdoor Colorado garden. The greenhouse, however, will make it so Joly and his team can harvest food from the property throughout the year.
The greenhouse is developed by a Colorado company, based in Pagosa Springs, called Growing Spaces.
"They designed the greenhouse around efficiency and minimizing inputs — electrical and gas and heat — so that you can maximize what you get out of it year-round," Velvis said.
Each greenhouse kit can be built to become a Growing Dome, offering the ability to garden year-round and off-grid, in both modest and harsh climates. Growing Spaces has been making these kits for decades, with diameters that range from 15 feet to 42 feet in varying heights.
"The dome shape is made to resist high winds and snow loading, and we get both of those out there," said Velvis of the land behind Mirabelle.
The greenhouse is highly insulated, requiring no electricity to operate, and Mirabelle has a 1,200-gallon water tank inside that acts like a thermal battery to regulate temperature.
"It's exceeding my expectations," Joly said of the greenhouse and the growing project as a whole. "That thing is brand new — we got it eight weeks ago and it's already full of vegetation."
Velvis has now been growing in the greenhouse for five weeks. Some of the plants were transplanted, but most of them have come up from seed. He uses hydroponics — or the method of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.
"So we are using the 1,200-gallon tank that is already in there for the thermal balance, and then added a 70-gallon tank in the middle to utilize the vertical space," he said.
The towers are growing purple basil and lettuce mixes currently, but plants will change throughout the seasons.
Experience and enthusiasm
Velvis attended the University of Vermont for ecological design. He moved to Colorado 10 years ago, eventually starting Mountain Microgreens.
"My goal is to partner my knowledge and experience with growing with the enthusiasm that Daniel brings to the table," Velvis said. "Over time I have learned so much, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to use that knowledge and to share it so this is successful."
This summer, the greenhouse is nurturing some unique edible varieties, including black cherry tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, strawberry mint, lemon thyme, asparagus bean, white radish, edible flowers, Asian lettuce mixes and pineapple tomatillos.
Most every first course creation offered on Mirabelle's menu incorporates at least one element from the greenhouse, and Joly said this is the "finishing touch" each dish really needs.
"It's magic to have a greenhouse 10 steps from the kitchen," he said. "That's like luxury to me."
Joly will try to grow less common Colorado plants, and those that often have to be imported — such as Belgian endive.
"A lot of times when you buy those items coming from Europe, a lot of them get destroyed through shipping," he said. "They get frostbite, or the quality is not what you expect, and it's really expensive to do that."
Growing your own bounty has its challenges, of course, and Velvis will continually work on proper temperature regulation and effective pest control.
"We can get really hot days and pretty cold nights, and plants don't really like that," he said.
Joly called the greenhouse therapeutic, and a nice escape from the bustle of running a restaurant.
"You go from a high-stress situation in the kitchen and then you go in there and get a couple leaves and it's like you have a day off," he said. "We are exploring more and more things, and will try to get mushrooms going for the fall. It's going to be a learning process, but I'm sure by next year we will be a lot more confident about what we are growing back there."
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