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Beaver Creek chef strives to keep culinary spark lit

Cassie Pence
newsroom@vaildaily.com
Beaver Creek CO, Colorado
HL Mirabelle 1 KA 01-26-09
ALL |

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado “-During his last 25 years in the culinary world, Daniel Joly has experienced some incredible chef moments.

The prestigious James Beard House in New York invited him to cook a six-course meal as part of its “rising star” in American cuisine series. Stella Artois booked him on a three-city tour to teach people how to cook with beer. He’s a certified Belgian Master Chef, and there’s not a space left on the walls of his Beaver Creek restaurant Mirabelle to hang any more awards.

But ask Joly to name a special moment thus far in his chef career, and he recalls an honor he once received from an aspiring chef.

“The best compliment I ever got was when a young guy asked me to sign an autograph. He was about 16, and he wanted to be a chef. So I signed an autograph, and the kid said, ‘I look at you and I am so inspired,'” Joly says in a thick Belgian accent. “It was so cool to affect a young person like that, to give him a stimulus. It was such an honest compliment.”

Joly and his wife, Nathalie, run Mirabelle, located in a charming turn-of-the-century farmhouse hidden at the base of Beaver Creek. Dining there feels a lot like a story book. Wooden floors creak and snow falls outside multi-paned windows. Eating takes place in a series of small rooms, romantic and cozy.

With Nathalie at the front of the house, Joly is the fire in the kitchen. In fact, he’s always in the kitchen: cooking on the line, simmering, braising, sauteeing and tasting. Joly lives for food, but it’s creating a unique restaurant experience that really drives him. Joly may have the laurels to rest on, but it’s not his style to do so.

“I don’t want to be an old chef in a young kitchen,” Joly said. “I cannot stay still. I like to have my mind busy and doing stuff.”

So when he’s not working 60-some hours a week at Mirabelle, he fills his calendar with culinary extracurriculars to challenge him, rouse new ideas and promote his restaurant and the Vail Valley.

“It’s good to see different kitchens, work with different chefs. When you see different kitchens,” Joly says, “it opens your mind and you try different things.”

At a recent charity dinner he cooked for in New York, for example, the host chef introduced him to a circulating water bath perfect for slow cooking meats. Joly bought his own and uses it for his 18-hour organic beef short ribs found on Mirabelle’s latest menu. Cooking untill fall-off-the-bone tender, the hardy ribs are served with Abbey Leffe beef stew and olive oil fingerling potatoes.

“It intensifies the flavor of the short ribs,” Joly says of the gadget. “I rub the beef down with spices, vacuum seal it and drop it in the water, so it cooks in its own juice flavor.”

Perpetually engaged, Joly will join a roster of celebrity chefs at the Bon Appetit Culinary and Wine Focus in Beaver Creek starting Thursday. He’s opening up his kitchen to host a visiting chef from Argentina and signed on for several events, including the Grand Tasting, MasterChef Challenge, and a few private cooking demonstration where he’ll show attendees different ways to cook with beer. In the U.S., cooks seem to know how to use beer only for marinades, but there are many more fun ways to cook with beer, Joly says.

Instead of water, Joly uses beer to make chocolate beignets, the French version of a doughnut. The yeast in the beer makes the beignets lighter and fluffier. At the class, Joly will also introduce people to his version of a cold one: beer sorbet. With just some sugar, milk, honey, and an ice cream maker, beer turns into a whole new refreshment.

“My goal during these demonstrations is to motivate people to try the recipe at home,” Joly says. “I don’t want to do something too complicated or use ingredients you can’t find. I don’t want to scare them away, I want to inspire them.”

Joly is constantly inviting people to share in his passion for food and cooking. And his chefs at Mirabelle are no exception. Creating the menu at Mirabelle is a team project, and the menu changes often to keep everyone ” including Joly and his return guests ” on their toes. Joly offers up the foundation of a dish and then the collaboration begins.

And collaboration has never tasted so sweet than in Mirabelle’s red beet gnocchi and Colorado goat cheese salad. Warm beet gnocchi unites with creamy goat cheese, a classic pairing, on a bed of quick-fried arugula. It was a sous chef’s idea to add the unique crunch of crispy greens.

For a classically trained Belgian chef, Joly’s cuisine is surprisingly fresh and light. That is not to read dull or simple. In fact, Mirabelle’s food is quite the opposite: sophisticated and creative. His lobster dish is a prime example. Sauteed lobster rests on a bright green watercress coulis and is then topped with a black ink squid ravioli filled with caviar creme.

Joly says what he loves about cooking is that “you’re always evolving.” And someday he sees himself using his experience to teach, continuing to light a spark in young chefs as he does today.

“It’s a good time to be chef,” Joly says. “But the most rewarding part is meeting all those interesting people that you meet when you own a restaurant. No matter if I serve 50 or 300 people, I just want people to be happy and come back to Mirabelle.”

Mirabelle is located at 55 Village Road in Beaver Creek. For reservations, call 970-949-7728.

Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail.


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