Behind the Scenes: Rising to the Challenge on race day
September 3, 2012
Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-part series. Visit http://www.vaildaily.com to read the first installment.
To truly be part of Beaver Creek Mountain Dining’s team on Aug. 23 – race day for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Aspen to Beaver Creek stage – I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. In Aspen, mechanics, technicians and race crews were also rising, if they had even slept at all. With sunrise still an hour away, at 5 a.m. I met Chef Kirk Weems and his race-day prep team in Beaver Creek’s Bear Lot.
As you recall from last week, Beaver Creek Mountain Dining fed race crews and more than 475 VIP race-goers at the Aspen-Beaver Creek finish line. An intense three days of prepping food followed the weeks of organization for the big buffet. The race to the finish line 97.2 miles away was not beginning in Aspen until 11:40 a.m., but in Beaver Creek, chefs and cooks had an earlier start for their own race to open the buffet by 11:30 a.m.
As we drove to Allie’s Cabin, we squeezed through the worksite where workers put final touches on their overnight transformation of Centennial Station bus station into the finish line area. I suddenly felt blessed to have gotten five hours of sleep. Sleep-deprived crews made fast work of something they had been doing for three days and would continue until the last rider crossed the finish line in Denver on Sunday. This was a seven-stage trans-Colorado event. I can’t imagine what it takes to conduct 21 stages across France and neighboring countries.
The night before, the “cold kitchen” was prepared and stocked in a U.S. Foods refrigerated trailer next to the VIP tent. Now, in Allie’s Cabin tucked in the aspens high above Beaver Creek Village, attention turned to completing time-sensitive dishes. We transformed 110 pounds of avocados into a relish to accompany the Olathe sweet corn arepas. Twenty-five pounds of butter became three delicious gallons of lemon beurre blanc for pan-fried rainbow trout. More than 1,100 arepas were cooked. The menu was now nearly complete. Only 175 rainbow trout filets remained to be pan-fried on-site.
Weems’ early-morning team consisted of Beano’s Executive Chef Bill Greenwood, Wildwood on Vail Mountain’s Executive Chef Scott Dodd, Allie’s sous chef Tabitha Phillips, Patrick McCarthy of Beano’s, Fred Wurtzel, sous chef at Red Sky Ranch, Allie’s dishwasher, Levy Contreras, and me. Every successful cooking operation requires a competent dishwasher to provide chefs with a steady supply of pots and pans. By 6 a.m., always-smiling Contreras was already hard at work.
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Before sunrise, I had already changed gloves three times as I worked through five cases of avocados with Phillips and McCarthy. Avocados oxidize quickly, requiring last-minute preparation. We worked fast, splitting them in half and removing the pits, easily done by “whacking” – a good culinary term – the pit with a sharp knife and turning 90 degrees to remove it. Quite easy unless the avocado isn’t ripe. Each half was then squished – another useful kitchen term – through a wire sheet pan grate. I was missing Pilates that day, but after turning 110 pounds of avocado halves into little square pieces, my daily upper bodywork was done. This method of preparing avocados is easy to do at home. The grates are cheap and you can dispense with peeling the avocado. Simply place it cut-side down on the grate and push through into a pan.
While we were busy with avocados, Greenwood, Dodd and Wurtzel efficiently worked the hot line, cooking 180 pounds of pork loins, 16 gallons of polenta, buerre blanc and arepas. The well-caffeinated chefs turned out an amazing amount of food in less than four hours. By 7 a.m., Weems was in his zone as he began loading the truck and running through his checklist like a pilot readying for a transatlantic flight. Weems is no stranger to mobilizing his kitchen and staff for large event dining. It showed. Could this be a dress rehearsal for two weeks of culinary needs for the 2015 alpine ski championships? I hope so. Weems and his Beaver Creek Mountain Dining team obviously are culinary champs in their own right.
With food and equipment safely stowed in the tent, by 9:30 a.m. it was time for a short break before the seven-hour final push began. As we snapped pictures for our own memories, many local cyclists rode under the finish line as crowds began to assemble under ominous dark clouds overhead. Fortunately, although the racers were in rain much of the stage, in Beaver Creek we were spared. The ice sculpturer struggled a bit with leveling his frozen creation. Somehow no one had taken into consideration that Centennial Station is on a slope. The slope certainly didn’t go unnoticed for me after countless round-trips in clogs between buffet stations and the kitchen throughout the day.
The first item served, and the first to be finished, were arepas. These small round unleavened disks made from corn are wildly popular, particularly considering they are gluten-free. The storied history of arepas spans from the Canary Islands throughout Latin America, with each culture adding its own twist. Tabitha Phillips suggested arepas and her twist was to add fresh Olathe corn into the mix. Judging by their fast disappearance, the Allie’s Cabin arepas were a huge success.
Buffet entrees included pork loins and rainbow trout. With a beautiful view of Beaver Creek, Chef Greenwood and his team pan-fried trout filets. Paul Wade, executive chef of The 10th Restaurant on Vail Mountain, plated and garnished the fish with salsa fresco, lemon beurre blanc and crispy onions that were wicked surreptitious snacks throughout the morning.
Next door in the cold kitchen, Spruce Saddle Executive Chef and long-time Vail Resorts employee, Matt Laware, oversaw plating of all cold dishes and the desserts, bourbon pecan pie and cheesecake. My favorite was the mixed baby field greens with Palisade peaches, brie, paysan croutons and honey-white truffle vinaigrette. Given it was beautifully garnished with the season’s first freestone peaches, the salad was as pleasing to the eyes as it was to the palate.
Once service began, there was a steady flow of food out and empty serving dishes in that continued until an hour after Jens Voigt finished his amazing ride to win the mountainous stage. It was now time for me to put on my sneaks and add two more miles to my long day of walking as I hiked down to the Bear Lot. My 13-hour day with Chef Weems and his team was complete. Six executive chefs and 12 cooks had logged over 300 man-hours and were breaking down their temporary kitchen. Already, long before I reached Prater Road, race crews were driving truckloads of orange metal barriers to the next finish line in Colorado Springs. Another stage and another long day was ahead for Pro Cycling racers and crews. For Beaver Creek, life returned to normal as we looked forward to once again sharing with the cycling world our special place in paradise.
Suzanne Hoffman is a local attorney, wine importer and the Chambellan Provincial of the Southwest Region and Bailli (president) of the Vail chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs. She is passionate about all things gastronomique. For more background information on her “Behind the Scenes” series, go to http://www.facebook.com/vailvalleysecrets. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.