Cooking seasonally, eating locally in Vail |

Cooking seasonally, eating locally in Vail

VAIL, Colorado – Larkspur Restaurant will host a harvest dinner on Friday night and restaurant owner Thomas Salamunovich will be in the kitchen. “Cuisine is my passion, my craft,” Salamunovich said. “The growth of Savory Group restaurants has taken me out of the kitchen on a daily basis, but I am excited to celebrate Colorado’s bounty with a special dinner at Larkspur.”Salamunovich hasn’t limited his culinary identity. From the elegant Larkspur Restaurant to the quick-service Larkburger, he is comfortable as long as he’s producing authentic fare.Since moving to Vail in 1993, Salamunovich’s career has been on the fast track. He left his role as executive chef at Vail’s iconic Sweet Basil in 1999 to open Larkspur, later that year. Since then, many opportunities have unfolded.In 2004, the gourmet burger was sweeping the country. Salamunovich saw a niche to fill in the Vail Valley and beyond. Larkburger epitomizes new fast food with its all natural, affordable burgers, truffle fries and creamy shakes. Four Larkburgers have opened with more on the horizon. Salamunovich opened Restaurant Avondale in the new Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon in 2008. Avondale’s stylish design, moderate price points and fresh, seasonal menus bridge the gap between Larkspur’s fine dining and Larkburger’s fast, casual meals.Larkspur and Avondale have an exclusive arrangement with LaVenture Farms in Gypsum. Seven years ago, Salamunovich started purchasing produce several times a week. Soon, the chef and farmer were planning the next season’s crops together, and a greenhouse was built to boost the short growing season, which challenges Rocky Mountain farmers. In 2007, Salamunovich was approached to be included in “Colorado Organic.” The cookbook is the brainchild of author Jennifer Olson and features Colorado farmers and eight Colorado chefs who are committed to local, seasonal food.

Larkspur Restaurant discontinues its nightly dinner service

VAIL — When Thomas Salamunovich opened Larkspur Restaurant 15 years ago at Golden Peak, it was the first ski-in, ski-out, slope-side fine dining restaurant in Vail. Continuing this spirit of innovation, Salamunovich is shaking up Vail's dining scene once again. In a bold move, Salamunovich and his spouse, Nancy Sweeney, have decided to discontinue nightly a la carte dinner service and reinvent their idea of fine dining, focusing on customized gatherings and private celebrations. "Simply put, we want to keep it fresh. Larkspur will continue to be open for lunch and apres ski in the winter," Salamunovich said. "It is time to tear it down to start back up with a renewed energy for what we do best." REWRITING THE RULE BOOK Salamunovich and Larkspur team will be working to rewrite the rulebook, concentrating on culinary experiences that generate joy and excitement. The restaurant will reopen with both a renewed vision and a newly remodeled dining room as well. "Larkspur has been a labor of love for all of us for more than 15 years," he said. "It is time to showcase our strengths and capitalize on the amenities that our guests expect and appreciate. We will continue the high level of service at lunch and apres and will focus on creating customized culinary experiences as we have done for many years, without the constraint of nightly service." CHEFS WORKING TOGETHER Salamunovich is composing a chef's consortium for Larkspur. It will bring together successful like-minded professionals from the Vail Valley, Denver, Boulder, New York and California. The list of invitees includes chefs, restaurateurs, health and wellness professionals, wine experts and other peers in the hospitality industry. "We will work together to create culinary events and unforgettable dining experiences that will be open to the public," Salamunovich said. The events will be inspired by Salamunovich's passions: artisanal products, culinary techniques, hospitality, health, nutrition and fitness. Events will include "cellar" dinners, featured guest chefs, harvest lunches, educational seminars and culinary workshops. In addition to the offerings located in and around the Golden Peak Lodge, Larkspur is adding a catering component to the business. This new venture will allow Larkspur's team limitless opportunities to create off-premise events. 'CONCEPTS WE'LL ALL GET TO ENJOY' "We are very excited about the opportunities this change will bring for Thomas, Nancy and the entire Larkspur team. I think the community will enjoy being able to book events at Larkspur year round and have Thomas cater private off-site events," said Chris Jarnot, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. "Personally, I can't wait to see what he dreams up in terms of guest-chef experiences and other concepts that we'll all get to enjoy." "It's exciting to be nervous about the limitless possibilities," Salamunovich said. "We are thrilled to begin a new chapter in Larkspur's history." Larkspur closes for the 2014 ski season on Saturday. For more information on Larkspur Restaurant or to be added to the email list to receive notice of upcoming events for the summer season, visit or call 970-754-8050. To contact Salamunovich, email

After 13 years, Vail’s Larkspur continues to thrive

VAIL, Colorado – Thomas Salamunovich, owner of Larkspur Restaurant, opened Larkspur’s doors just before the 1999 ski season. He has striven for and succeeded at creating a hospitality-driven fine dining experience for both travelers to Vail and Eagle County residents alike. Now that a new lease for the restaurant in the Golden Peak Lodge has been signed with Vail Resorts, he is proud and excited to announce that they will be able to continue providing memorable experiences for their guests. “It is so exciting to have the opportunity to continue the Larkspur legacy,” Salamunovich said. “The difference between a good restaurant and an extraordinary restaurant is the latter requires extended and dedicated commitment to quality-driven cuisine, solid service and gracious hospitality.” Traditions that Larkspur guests can continue to look forward to include skiing down Riva to have a lobster and rocket club for lunch, grabbing a latte from Larkspur’s market, and watching the chefs in the open kitchen. Larkspur has become an integral part the following community events over the past 13 years: Ski Club Vail, Gourmet on Gore, Vail Farmer’s Market, Vail Jazz Foundation “Jazz After,” Fourth of July, and post-Bravo dinners. Larkspur’s team will be available for weddings, rehearsal dinners, proms, business gatherings, anniversaries, birthdays and special occasions. Larkspur recently hired Executive Chef Richard Hinojosa, a veteran chef of notable restaurants such as Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Westin Maui Resort and Spa, and the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. Hinojosa took over this role in spring and collaborates with Salamunovich to create inspired menus while remaining respectful of the now “classic” dishes at Larkspur. “Since 1999, we’ve successfully created enduring dishes that are nostalgic and innovative. We provide a familiar dining experience while remaining current to the times,” Salamunovich said. Veal scallopini, Palisade tomato and polenta soup with grilled cheese, caesar salad with potato croutons, mushroom, ricotta, rocket pizza, and fried to order doughnuts are a few examples. In addition to his culinary talents, Hinojosa, a certified sommelier, is enthusiastic about the role that wine plays in fine dining. He and James Gall, Larkspur’s managing director, are committed to uphold and evolve the relationship between cuisine and wine that Larkspur is known for. Vail’s 50th anniversary ski season has Salamunovich and his team inspired to make it one of the best year’s ever. In effort to create an unforgettable apres ski experience, Larkspur plans to feature “hand foods” – crispy beef tacos, larkburgers, fried chicken and pizzas, as well as $1.50 oysters on the half shell and half off champagne. Additionally, the 2013 Burton U.S. Open will take place outside Larkspur’s front door. Early last summer Burton announced the move to Vail while dining at Larkspur. This winter Larkspur will launch a new blog, embark on an invigorated relationship with the hotels and restaurants in their area and strive for an even more refreshed and inspired cocktail program.

Restaurant Avondale set to open Sept. 18

AVON, Colorado Independent chef/owner Thomas Salamunovich will open Restaurant Avondale on Sept. 18 inside the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa. Salamunovich, a local restaurateur, is known for his unique and winning Colorado-based concepts including Larkspur in Vail and Larkburger in Edwards. Avondale, his third restaurant, will offer simple, seasonal cuisine that emphasizes a strong farm-to-table relationship.Salamunovich has assembled a hospitality team that includes some of his key management from Larkspur for this expansion. Richard Purkiss, who was a dining room manager at Larkspur for three years and has more than 15 years of fine dining background will serve as general manager of food and beverage for the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa. Jelena Musa joined the Larkspur team in 2007 from La Casa del Zorro in San Diego; she will be Avondales general manager. Jelena was recently named one of 30 Under 30 outstanding hospitality professionals by the trade magazine Restaurant Business.Mike Regrut, most recently Larkspurs executive chef, will serve as the executive chef of the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa. Regrut spent his tenure at Larkspur cultivating a strong relationship with a Gypsum farmer who has been supplying 80 percent of the restaurants produce. Now, both Avondale and Larkspur will bring a daily harvest to the table. Regrut himself goes to the farm on a regular basis to select what is most ripe for that days dishes. He will oversee all food and beverage operations for the Westins banquets, in-room dining, spa and poolside service.Jeremy Kittelson moved to Colorado in spring of 2007 after receiving exemplary reviews from the Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine magazine as executive chef of mobile four star Tapawingo in Ellsworth, Michigan. Prior to that he worked at the acclaimed Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago. Kittelson will now serve as Avondales executive chef and will oversee breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the restaurant. The Manhattan-based architects, Asfour Guzy, are responsible for Avondales design. Posh and contemporary, Avondale has several cozy seating areas and a private dining room available for small groups. The bar features a glass enclosed wine cellar and a circular seating area. The Redondo has a fire-centered round table and a semi-circular window with a view of the Eagle River and Beaver Creek. Known for their award-winning projects of diverse scale across the U.S. and Europe, Asfour Guzys restaurant designs have included the highly acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York and Redd in Yountville, Calif.Avondale will open for dinner starting Sept. 18 and will add breakfast and lunch availability on September 24. Call 970-790-5500 for reservations. For more information, visit

A little bit Vegas, a little bit New York City

The general public is invited to reap the savory awards of Salamunovich’s idea, for $59 (not including alcohol, tax and gratuity) during regular dinner service Wednesday evening. “It’s a wonderful thing for our staff to see the visions and creativity and exuberance of other individuals,” said an excited Salamunovich. “And it’s wonderful for me to learn from them, too. There’s such energy, and a diversion, when you have new people in the kitchen.” The three chefs will be working side by side on each dish, dressed in kitchen whites. Robins wanted to serve something markedly different from Larkspur’s normal menu offerings, so his contributions incorporate his particular passion for Asian food: a tuna sashimi starter and a chinois lamb chop entree. He considers his sashimi to be a clean and simple dish, served with ponzu sauce, sushi rice and daikon salad. The rack of lamb is marinated in a vinaigrette, grilled, and served with a cilantro-mint pesto. “I’ve really learned over the years to use quality ingredients, cook it well, and let it stand on its own,” said Robins. “I’ve cooked all over the world, and I really enjoy it. I find it to be not only inspiring but also a challenge.” At Eleven Madison, Heffernan reinterprets dishes that pay homage to his classical French training as well as his American roots. In the spirit of Larkspur’s own “French soul,” he’s created a parmesan and truffle bread pudding with jambon de Bayonne (a French ham) for the starter. The entree will be a wild black bass with crab stuffing and marjoram jus – the inspiration of which emerged from Vail’s own Gore Creek. “The bass began as a whole-roasted Thanksgiving bass,” explained Heffernan. “I’m a recreational fisherman, and I would catch enormous fish in the Gore Creek, very close to town. Big ones!” Because parties of 12 don’t often wander into a restaurant, looking for a whole fish stuffed with crab, he began making smaller portions. The result will be served at the dinner. Heffernan is part of the same restaurant group that is responsible not only for Eleven Madison Park, but also for Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern. “His is one of the best restaurant groups in the country,” said Salamunovich. “Two of them are rated number one and two in Zagats.” As for Robins, Spago Las Vegas is but one of his projects. Now a partner in the group, he spends his time overseeing restaurants from Chicago to Maui. “It’s a lifestyle, is what it is.,” said Robins, laughing. “I enjoy food, wine, people.” “Spago was the first true restaurant in Las Vegas,” explained Salamunovich. Heffernan cooked in Larkspur’s kitchen last year, at the inaugural guest chef dinner. Though Robins and Salamunovich have known each other for decades, this will be the first time Robins has worked the line at Larkspur. “It’s a challenge working with a new staff, but Thomas’ kitchen is set up so professionally it’s easy,” said Heffernan. “They’re excited to have you, and they’re looking to learn.” For more information on the guest chef dinner, or to make a reservation, call Larkspur at 479-8050. Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.

Vail Seasonal: The Larkburger is homegrown and all-American

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado -We here in Colorado’s Vail Valley watched the medals count climb, making sure the USA kept a healthy lead. We cheered the hometown favorites – Vonn, Schleper, Del Bosco. We brought Bode back and marveled at Shawn. Apolo amazed. It was impossible to avoid getting caught up in the Olympics, and it brought out our patriotic best.USA cuisine, like the Olympics, is a melting pot of cultures and flavors, but we can take credit for inventing the beloved all-American burger. Burgers are a restaurant favorite, showing up on menus from the most casual joints to the finest elegant eateries. They are a staple of the home kitchen – easy and quick, perfect barbecue fare or a simple dinner on a weeknight. Local entrepreneur Thomas Salamunovich has taken the burger to cult-like status. Salamunovich, chef-owner of Larkspur Restaurant in Vail, knew he was on to something big in the early 2000s.”We realized shortly after we opened Larkspur 10 years ago, that the sheer size of the restaurant would allow us to have two separate menus and appeal to a larger audience.” The bar menu was born, and its most popular dish became the Larkburger, and the rest is history. In 2006, Salamunovich opened a new restaurant concept in Edwards. Simply called Larkburger, the space resembles a fast food stop, but upscale and eco-friendly. The menu is … Larkburger, with just a few complements. Larkburger was an immediate sensation and took off in all-American fashion. In 2008, Salamunovich and his partner, Adam Baker, opened a second Larkburger in Boulder near the University of Colorado campus. Just last week, the third Larkburger opened in Denver, in the center of Denver Tech Center. In the Vail Valley, the Larkburger continues to be a staple at Larkspur’s Bar and Salamunovich’s Avondale in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa.”But you can also make the Larkburger at home,” said Salamunovich, who is a nurturing soul and a perfectionist. “Not one single ingredient can be taken off the burger because it all works together. The mayonnaise mixes with the meat juices, the tomato acids and the lettuce crispness. All combine to create the classic Larkburger.” 2 large russet potatoes1/2 gallon canola oilSea saltCut potatoes in 3/16 inch sticks and soak in water for 24 hours to remove excess starch. Heat canola oil to 325 degrees in Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan. Drain and dry potatoes and then fry them in hot oil for two to three minutes. Remove potatoes from oil and lay out on a rack in a single layer to cool completely. Heat the oil up to 375 degrees, put the fries back in the oil and cook three minutes until golden brown and crispy. Remove fries from oil, drain and toss with sea salt. 28 ounces all natural ground beefSalt and fresh ground pepper4 slices sharp cheddar cheese4 sourdough hamburger buns2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted4 leaves iceberg lettuce1 vine-ripened tomato, slicedRed onion, slicedForm four 7-ounce hamburgers that are 4 inches across. Mark sure the edges are squared and form a small indentation in the center of each side of each hamburger. This allows them to swell into a flat disk once the juices move to the center. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the burgers for seasoning. Grill and turn burgers frequently to get even carmelization. Place one slice of cheese on each burger for 30 seconds, then put burgers on a rack above a sheet pan, and keep warm for four minutes. Reserve the juices from the sheet pan for mayonnaise. 1 egg yolk3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice1 tablespoon Dijon mustard1 teaspoon kosher salt3/4 cup blended oil (80% canola, 20% EVOO)4 tablespoons EVOOBlack pepper2 teaspoons hamburger drippingsWhisk all ingredients except oils. Slowly add both oils until a smooth emulsion is formed. Brush each side of the buns with melted butter and place them on the hot griddles. Toast until dark golden. Spread mayonnaise on both sides of the buns. On top bun, layer one leaf of lettuce, one slice of tomato sprinkled with salt and pepper, and one slice onion, then sandwich with hamburger patty on bottom bun. Surround with French fries on the plate. Serve with extra mayonnaise for dipping. Serves four. Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, ( at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale, ( opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.

Dining among the sage

When Red Sky Ranch’s Director of Clubhouse Operations Harry Johnson described The Silver Sage restaurant as “rich ranch,” he got it exactly right. From the comfortable chairs overlooking the Greg Norman Course to the gleaming goblets filled with elixirs, Silver Sage is elite and unfussy. “It might be a little arrogant and forward to describe it that way,” he said, apologetically, “but I’m going to go ahead and put it out there.” Red Sky Ranch includes two golf courses, two clubhouses and several home sites, some of which are already built. “The land itself is as pretty a spot as exists in the Eagle River Valley,” he said, waving his arm to include the rolls of sage, rock and endless blue sky that surround the property. Members play one course, while guests play the other. It alternates daily. The Silver Sage is located in the member clubhouse, meaning only members and their escorted guests are allowed to eat lunch there. But in the evenings, it’s open to the public for dinner. Because Thomas Salamunovich, owner of Larkspur in Vail, is lending his culinary expertise and passion to both Red Sky restaurants, it’s something the public should take advantage of. “When I took this job, I was looking for a way the restaurants could get good, fast,” said Johnson, who has 35 years of experience in the business. “Thomas served personally as a consultant last year, and I chose to deepen the relationship to include the Larkspur culture. We’re not opposed to be stealing his reputation.” The Larkspur culture includes Adam Baker, Stephanie Rainsford, Dan Kent and more. Everyone involved seems to benefit from the set-up. Red Sky Ranch benefits from Salamunovich’s experience and skill, while he gets an outlet for his excitable tendency to design, create and re-create. As for the staff, Larkspur’s busy season is winter. In the summer when business slows down in Vail, they go to The Silver Sage, which will be busy until the weather turns cold. Both restaurants get to keep experienced, well trained staff, and the staff gets regular income with very little off season. The Silver Sage takes its name from the native plant that surrounds Red Sky Ranch; the menu takes its inspiration from the seasons. Written into Salamunovich’s contract is the promise of a restaurant garden on-site. When diners sit down at the table, they’re brought a plate of crudites, fresh bread and tapenade. “It’s sort of old school,” said the chef. “And it goes with the idea that we want only very fresh vegetables, and organic when possible. We’re not fussy – we’re just ingredient-driven.” As old school as crudites may be, they’re fresh and clean in flavor. “There aren’t any new ideas,” said Salamunovich. “But it’s new again. I’m not interested in re-making Larkspur at Red Sky. It’s a whole different ball game. Here, we’ve got clean food with minimal fuss and manipulation. The key is, it’s got love.” There’s still a hint of the exotic, no matter how down-home chicken-fried quail might sound. The dinner menu isn’t massive, but it does have something for everyone. In addition to a la carte selections of appetizer and entrees, there will be three tasting menus on a daily basis. One of the tasting menus will change each week, just to keep it interesting. The Garden Menu is exclusively vegetarian, and the Ocean Menu features fish and seafood options. Anything else will go onto the Range Menu, from steak to chicken to beyond. Salamunovich is quick to explain he’s not the executive chef of The Silver Sage – that’s Dan Kent. But he is the idea man, with the know-how to implement them. “What he creates is a forum for creative people to express themselves,” said Johnson about Salamunovich. The restaurant in the Guest Clubhouse is open to the public for lunch and special functions. Whereas the Member Clubhouse overlooks the Greg Norman Course, the Guest Clubhouse has views of the Tom Fazio Course. Wildflowers spring topsy-turvy from the gardens, and there’s an open-air patio for those craving sunshine. A tented area takes the guess-work out of weather forecasts the day of the party. Timothy McCaw, executive chef for Zach’s Cabin in Bachelor Gulch, is the chef de cuisine at the Guest Clubhouse. “It’s really a flexible venue, because it can be used for a formal dinner or a laid back event,” said Brooke Himot, special events coordinator. Either way, it’s still rich ranch. Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.

Chefs’ Roundtable column: Cooking in the great outdoors

From community garden plots, to home delivery of organic foods, to buying a share of a cow from a local farm, it seems like people want to eat clean and “live off the land,” or get as close as possible without actually owning a farm. So, for your next adventure in living off the land, try cooking an entire meal over a wood fire. “It’s a soulful experience. The method has integrity, it’s artisanal, and there’s a natural element to working with heat,” said Thomas Salamunovich, chef and owner of Larkspur Restaurant in Vail. Salamunovich started cooking with fire during the Northern California food revolution in the ’80s and ’90s, when he worked alongside Jeremiah Tower, Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck in restaurants that promoted cooking with wood. “My first choice in cooking anything would be outside, over a wood fire,” said Salamunovich. “The flavor palette is so unique – it can transcend the natural flavors of any food.” Grilling over wood is an instinctive process, and more rewarding than cooking on a gas grill or stovetop. Whether you wrap a trout in foil with butter, lemon and fresh herbs and toss it right on the coals; roast shrimp in a sleek steel grill fry pan from Williams-Sonoma; or grill Colorado peaches in a cast iron skillet finished with artisan ricotta and Tamarisk honey, all food cooked over a wood fire has something in common. It’s permeated with that subtle smoky flavor. No smoke means no love At Kirby Cosmo’s in Minturn, chef owner Mark Tamberino slow cooks his pork ribs over low, indirect heat with peach wood from the Clark Family farm in Palisade. “The beauty of a wood fire is that you can dial in a cooking strategy and achieve that rustic flavor. If there’s no smoke, there’s no love,” Tamberino said. Start with the grill; the simpler the better. You can build a grill enclosure out of old bricks or stones and set the grate from your gas grill on top, or you can upgrade to an adjustable campfire grill from Spitjack ( If you want to maximize that smoky flavor, Tamberino recommends the Big Green Egg ( for the home chef. “It’s user friendly and can make you look like a hero on the grill,” he said. Wood comes in all flavors – oak, cherry, peach, apple, hickory and mesquite (at Home Depot). Tamberino prefers peach wood. “I like the control I have over the heat,” he said. “It’s all about the flavor you get from wood.” Salamunovich plans to use Lazzari mesquite lump charcoal at Larkspur’s Harvest Lunch on Sunday, part of the Gourmet on Gore events, because it burns hotter and lasts longer than briquettes and “doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the food,” he said. Now that you have your grill set up, plan about two hours to get the fire ready. “Let the first fire burn down to embers and then add another layer of wood. It’s the second fire that creates that deep heat you want to cook on,” Salamunovich said. End of summer feasting Try an easy end of summer feast you can cook on the fire by grilling Olathe corn combined with the last cherry tomatoes of the season paired with grilled trout or, as Salamunovich suggests, sumac chimichurri on butterflied leg of lamb served over a mesquite grilled garden citronette. (See the recipe, alongside.) The heat of the embers, their location under your grate and how close the grate is to your embers will all dictate how long to cook the lamb and where it needs to be on the grill. Move the lamb around on the grill to achieve that perfect caramelized outer crust, but only turn the meat once. For the Citronette, the recipe is more intuitive than exact. The idea is to grill whatever vegetables you like. As a side dish you can wilt rocket or kale in a stainless steel bowl right on the grill with a little pressed lemon oil and late harvest vinegar. Want to learn more about wood fired grilling? Visit Kirby Cosmo’s in Minturn for some “pig wings” and authentic southern barbecue, or find them at the Minturn and Vail farmer’s markets. This Labor Day weekend, join Larkspur Restaurant at a communal table outside by the garden and grill for a five-course meal including the Sumac Chimichurri and lamb cooked over a wood fire with ingredients from Larkspur’s garden and local farms. Call Larkspur at 970-754-8050 for more information. Whether you watch seasoned chefs in action or build a fire in your back yard, enjoy a long slow meal with family and friends this weekend and put the rustic flavor of wood fire in your food. Kelly Brinkerhoff is a freelance writer and consultant for Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur (, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999.

An apple a day

Western Colorado is known for its local produce found at farmers markets all summer, but as fall approaches, Colorado’s largest fruit crop is just taking off. “This is one of the biggest years for apples we’ve had in a long time,” said Jeff Schwartz owner of Delicious Orchards, an organic orchard, market and cafe in Paonia. Schwarz makes Big B’s organic juice, which is distributed throughout the southwest, and has perfected a prolific fruit crop of cherries, peaches, apricots, apples, plums and pears sold on site, in their cafe and to niche markets. “Apples might not be as sexy as peaches, but there are more varieties, they last longer, and are more useful – there’s a huge processing market for apples,” said Schwartz. Right now you can visit Delicious Orchards, sling a basket over your shoulder and wander through the rows of apple and plum trees picking your own fruit. Honey crisp, MacIntosh, Jonagolds and Elephant Heart Plums are “picking” right now. Colorado used to be one of the biggest fruit growing regions in the U.S., but with increased global competition, the apple crop in Colorado shrank and farms started planting more cherries and grapes. In the late 1980s, Washington State began marketing the shiny Red Delicious apple that looked nice on a table but, said Schwartz, “was starchy with a cardboard like texture.” The honey crisp variety came along about 10 years ago out of Minnesota and “started an apple revolution with more people devouring different apple varieties,” Schwartz said. Cooking with apples Apples, that most versatile of fruits, are showing up on menus at your local restaurants right now. “It’s that sense of terroir and seasonality – when the leaves and weather begin to turn, it just feels right to cook with apples,” said Mark Fischer, owner and chef of Six89 in Carbondale, Phat Thai in Carbondale/Denver and his most recent culinary adventure, The Pullman in Glenwood Springs. The apple has a long and meaningful history for Thomas Salamunovich, owner and chef at Larkspur Restaurant in Vail. The “soul of a classic dessert, the apple Tarte Tatin, was one of the first apple dishes I learned to make,” Salamunovich said. The original “tarte des demoiselles Tatin” was created by accident in 1888 by two sisters who ran the L’Hotel Tatin, located in a small rural town in the Loire Valley. One of the sisters was distracted while making the tart and baked it upside down. Despite the mistake, the guests loved it. The Darche family, the Tatin’s archrivals, taught Salamunovich their version of the upside down apple tarte while he was staging in La Ferte Saint-Aubin. “I was told to hold the apple like a violin and the peeler like a bow, and to peel the apples to Chopin,” Salamunovich said. The “Tarte Tatin” became world famous in the early 1900s when the famed Maxim’s Restaurant in Paris put it on their menu. Larkspur’s pastry chef, Mark Metzger, and Salamunovich baked and taste tested 25 apple tarts this week for Larkspur’s Back Yard Farm Lunch, slated for Sunday. “The farm lunch will have an Asian twist,” Salamunovich said, “Mark makes the most amazing puff pastry from scratch.” The pastry is spread with a Fuji apple and ginger puree, topped with sliced apples set in a fan formation, finished with butter and sugar and served fresh out of the oven with a lemongrass creme anglaise and a candied ginger creme. Not just for dessert When you think about apples, don’t just think dessert. Apples can be used in any number of savory dishes. “I prefer using Empire or MacIntosh apples in savory applications,” said Fischer, who prepares roasted Brussels sprouts, sauteed apples and sage with a roast duck, which he serves at Six89. Or try crispy pork belly with green apple agro dulce, celery root puree, and apple cider gastrique at The Pullman. But for eating “give me a honey crisp,” said Fischer. The best way to understand this most classic and simple fruit is to experiment. Try a Jonathan with a wedge of Lamborn Bloomer goat cheese from Colorado’s Avalanche Cheese Company, bake a simple apple and pear crumble with Fuji apples (recipe at, or simply join the harvest by eating your way through a basket of apples. Kelly Brinkerhoff is a local freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur (, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. (

Couture dining at Larkspur

In the restaurant business, it is a constant battle with mediocrity. Larkspur Owner and Executive Chef Thomas Salamunovich is winning the war with his perfectionist ways and creative culinary talent. “I don’t miss a thing. You have to focus on every detail or it will all slip,” said Salamunovich. Larkspur isn’t just fine dining, it’s a culinary adventure for all five senses. The journey culminates at the Chef’s Table, a multi-course evening customized by the chef specifically for six to eight friends. The meal is created according to your likes, dislikes and dietary restrictions. The ingredients are special-ordered, so you won’t taste anything that appears on Larkspur’s regular menu, which is the whole point of the dinner. “It’s about building flavors, ramping up a meal. It’s about food and wine pairings,” said Salamunovich. “There are no menus, and the guests have no idea what’s coming next.” Separated from the rest of the dining area by sheer, luminous curtains, the Chef’s Table is located practically in the kitchen, giving guests a bird’s eye view into the cooking action. The chef prepares the meal, serves it and explains the intricacies of each dish as the meal progresses. “Guests are completely mesmerized with the kitchen. They stop talking and all stare at the action,” said Salamunovich. The Chef’s Table is also an opportunity for Salamunovich and his executive chef Mark Curran to show off a bit. The dishes are elaborate with preparations and presentations that are less practical. In the past, Salamunovich has seared beef on a 600 degree rock and has served specialty liquor out of glasses made of ice. Once, he served the meal without china and used knives to present the tastings. Head sommelier Kevin Furtado, whose passion for wine borderlines obsession, plays an integral role with the degouste menu. He recommends both traditional and racy pairings, all while building a relationship with the guests, learning about their flavor profiles. “It’s a long bonding experience. It’s a three and a half hour dinner, and I almost always end up sitting down with the guests at the end,” said Salamunovich. Reservations for the couture dining experience must be made at least two days in advance. The cost is $125 per person, in addition to cost of wines, which is available for a variety of budgets. Contemporary American cuisine with a French soul Salamunovich spent many years cooking in Europe, particularly France, where he learned French technique and devoted himself to their cuisine. Larkspur’s fare is contemporary American with a French soul. “My philosophy is to prepare food with as much integrity and passion as possible with a nod to proper technique,” said Salamunovich. Dinner is served every day from 5:30 p.m.-close, and the menu changes frequently. Salamunovich listens to loud classical music as he computes his cuisine ideas, which he culls from his own experiences. His wife, Nancy Sweeney, also owner and director of marketing, inspires a lot of the menu items, as well. The butternut squash and gala apple soup with styrian pumpkin seed oil and chives ($10.50) is bountiful in flavor with a stunning, colorful presentation. The other winning starter is the burgundy braised short rib of beef with panzanella and parmesean ($15.50). For dinner you can’t go wrong with the veal scaloppini with twiced baked potatoes and creamed spinach ($32.50). It’s an entree the chef can’t take off the menu because of its popularity. Although it’s hard to order chicken at such a fine-dining establishment, Salamunovich’s chicken is the best I’ve ever tasted. The petaluma natural chicken ($28.50) is pan seared to crisp the skin and then baked in the oven to lock in the juices. It’s savory, yet simple, comfort food. “There is no better technique to cook chicken,” said Salamunovich. The organic Scottish salmon with baba ghanoush, curry and chick pea vinaigrette ($27.50) is a dish on the menu that can be prepared as a low fat, low sugar or whole grain option. To finish with dessert or cheese, that is the question Smith is the queen of dessert. She makes all the sweets in-house, and the choices change often, usually with the seasons. She names the chocolate pudding cake with “oil and vinegar” ($8.50) as one of her favorites. It has an Oreo-cookie type bottom and is drizzled with a high-grade balsamic vinegar and then served with olive oil ice cream, which gives it floral characteristics. “It’s very different, but very good,” said Smith. The pastry chef has become famous over “Allana’s” donuts ($8.50), which this year she decided to fill with vanilla cream. They are fried to order and served with petite valrhona-godiva hot cocoa. Smith also selects the artisan cheeses, described in detail on the menu, you can choose three ($14.40). “It’s very European to eat cheese as dessert. You’re usually drinking larger red wines with dinner and cheese is a good complement while you’re finishing your wine,” said Smith. “Cheese is also a good option if you want to go low sugar or low carb.” Lunch at Larkspur or the Market The Larkspur Market is located right next to the restaurant at the base of Golden Peak, making it a healthy, gourmet option for lunch while on the slopes. It’s butterscotch yellow walls and dark wood remind you of an old-world bistro, and so does its fare. “From start to finish, everything in the Market is made from scratch with quality ingredients,” said Smith, who heads up the market. Five different sandwiches a day are pre-made on Larkspur’s house-baked artisan bread, such as the oil-cured yellowfin tuna nicoise style on olive batard. Salads, three soups and wraps also fill the menu. In the morning, guests can choose from sticky buns, banana breads, breakfast sandwiches or quiche, and the Market also offers coffee drinks. The Market is open during the winter season from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. “The market is about in-and-out and convenience. We cater to the little kids. We even offer organic baby food,” said Smith. If time is no concern, Larkspur restaurant serves lunch daily from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., and there is a bar menu served all day. Larkspur’s lunch items are comfort food with a gourmet twist, like the palisade tomato soup and three grilled cheese sandwiches with field greens ($11.75). But it’s hard to suggest anything but the “Lark burger” ($10.50), served with homemade fresh-cut french fries. Compound butter is packed inside the meat so when it’s grilled it bastes from within. The onions are soaked to remove bitterness and the lettuce is chopped paper thin. If burgers could be royalty, this one would be the king. Vail Colorado