Let them eat lobster rolls: Celebrate Bastille Day with Left Bank at the Vail Farmers’ Market
Editor’s note: This article appears as part of a series about vendors at the Vail Farmers’ Market and Art Show. The series will run throughout the summer.
Jean Michel Chelain’s lobster rolls at the Vail Farmers’ Market and Art Show are a favorite for those looking for lunch at the market. Paired with one of his oversized macaron halves, the sandwiches are a refreshing bite of summer. Since it’s Bastille Day – French independence day – celebrate by eating food made by a French chef.
Bastille Day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, when French rebels invaded the Bastille prison, freeing political prisoners and stealing weaponry and gunpowder to fight the monarchy. The event marked the beginning of the French Revolution. During the Enlightenment-fueled revolution, the Third Estate – a.k.a. commoners – overthrew the absolutist monarchy under King Louis XIV, which implemented heavy taxes on the Third Estate, excluded citizen voices from government and left peasants near-starving in the dirty Parisian streets. Thus, the French celebrate their independence on July 14 each year.
Chelain, originally from France, is the owner and executive chef at the Left Bank, a French restaurant in Vail that’s been standing for 49 years. In 2006, he took over the restaurant from Luc and Liz Meyer, who opened Left Bank in Vail in 1970. The Meyers were extremely dedicated to Left Bank, and Liz only took a week off when she had a baby.
In the 13 years since taking over Left Bank, Chelain has brought the restaurant into the modern era while keeping true to its roots. The wine list, which has been a staple of the Left Bank dining experience since the Meyer days, remains strong and features mostly French selections. Chelain is a purist when it comes to the precise art of French cuisine, but his seasonally-updated menu allows him to experiment with modern flavors.
Made on homemade miniature baguettes, Chelain’s lobster is brought from Maine to Vail. While the bun might not be traditional – New Englanders will tell you that real lobster rolls are always served on all-American white, top-split hotdog buns – everything else stays true to the classic recipe. Chelain uses mayonnaise, onion, celery and fennel sparingly, and the only additional sandwich component besides the lobster and the bread is a bed of lettuce.
“That’s the staple, every single week we have them. People coming, having a lobster roll,” Chelain said. Regarding what constitutes a proper lobster roll, including thoughts after a trip to Boston last summer, he said “I don’t think there is a bad one. You can make it the way you want it.”
Left Bank has been at the Vail Farmers’ Market since it started in 2001. They started with ice cream, and over the years, changed its menu. Also on the menu at the tent are shrimp skewers, peach cobbler, homemade jam, lemon and chocolate ice cream. Customers can also buy Left Bank’s famed tomato soup in big jars to enjoy at home.
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