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Best New Chefs at the Aspens Food and Wine Classic feel the building pressure

ASPEN Its like defending a thesis in front of a group of favorite professors only worse.Food & Wine Magazines top 10 Best New Chefs are already on the cover of the magazine. Now they have to prepare a dish, one dish, for their peers at this years Aspen Food & Wine Magazine Classic.Matt Dillon, a Seattle restaurateur, was at a friends Vashon Island farm Monday, making ricotta from fresh milk for the dish he will present.So, its a little crazy here, he said.On the other side of the country, Gabriel Bremer, another best new chef, said he has not slept in three days trying to put together his dessert for the festival, torchon de chocolat a cylinder of chocolate filled with soft ganache, zabaglione and a high-quality aged rum.Were going very how can I say this without saying were insane to be doing any of these? Bremer asked. We want to do our best for the event. The most weve ever done is 30, and now were making 1,000.The award is, to put it lightly, a big deal. However, the award could hardly be more different for Bremer and Dillon. While Bremer has been reading the best new chefs article for years, Dillon doesnt read magazines or watch television at all.I probably have the last 12 issues for best new chef, Bremer said. To see my face on the cover of that is rather surreal right now. I dont know if its completely sunk in.Dillon enjoys the honor, but for him, the award is from another world. Dillon isnt really part of the fine dining scene: He doesnt read magazines, watch TV or advertise.Youre not coming to dine, youre just coming over to have dinner, Dillon said of the idea behind his restaurant. Were just trying to serve people dinner. Someone wouldnt go to a friends house and be expecting something thats planned out and perfect.Dillons restaurant opened last year with 22 seats and a menu that changes daily, sometimes twice daily, depending on ingredients. The food comes nearly entirely from local growers who are his friends.I do my best to know them, and if I dont, I go out and visit them, Dillon said. I do most of my shopping at the farmers markets. Its a very personal relationship for me. Im spending thousands of dollars on these things. I want to know who they are. I put so much of my heart and soul into this, I want to be sure the farmers and producers are doing the same thing.Sitka and Spruce has quickly become known in Seattle as a small restaurant serving delicious meals at a reasonable price. There are often items on the menu for $3 or $4 dollars, and even the most expensive rarely top $10.Dillon said the chalkboard menu likely will only have eight or nine items on any given day. And when the restaurant runs out of something, the staff just erases it from the menu sometimes in the middle of a meal.Dillon said using local varieties keeps him creative. And though he spent the better part of a year supporting himself as a professional forager, he still finds things hes never seen.He tosses all sorts of wild-growing food into dishes mushrooms, mint, licorice root, wood violets, nettles, wild onion flowers, greens, watercress, lettuce and gets lamb from the Skagit River Valley, milk and yogurt from Vashon Island.Dillon is so devoted to local food that hes practically on the fringe of the sustainability movement. But his rapid success is a measure of what people want.For the past 20 years, Food & Wine Magazine has been choosing best new chefs, and this year many are focused on local and other environmentally sustainable practices. Its about quality of food, they say.Similarly, the Food and Wine Magazine Classic is moving in the same direction, with a goal this year of raising $1 million for Farm to Table, which supports local farmers and sustainable practices. Currently, American food travels an average of 2,000 miles from farm to table, and urban sprawl devours two acres of farmland every minute.A part of this years Grand Tasting Tent at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic will be devoted to growers and winemakers who use sustainable practices, and a portion of ticket sales will go toward Farm to Table.Bremer, too, recognizes the benefits of local food but also sees the global economy as a positive force.I can get fish overnighted fresh out of the local fishermen from Hawaii, from Trinidad, even Japan, Bremer said. Sometimes its nicer than the local stuff. But definitely supporting local farmers is something I do.Bremer has his own organic farm and works with small farmers nearby to get food for the restaurant. He said hes looking forward to the dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes that should start producing fruit in coming months.He said hes working with fishermen in Tobago to fish for small numbers of blackfin tuna. The tuna is among fish with the lowest mercury content.Its environmentally fished and has low mercury for the clientele, Bremer said. With the more research we do, we find those things out there. Im as excited about that as I am about an heirloom tomato.Bremer, however, had to get back to his torchon de chocolat, and Dillon needed to keep making cheese so they could come here and enjoy the festivities.As Bremer put it, he has to keep pinching himself to make sure its real, even though hes already seen himself on the cover of Food & Wine.Its great to have this recognition after the amount of hard work everyone puts in here, Bremer said, great to have national recognition.


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