Chefs take center stage in Vail Valley |

Chefs take center stage in Vail Valley

Caramie Schnellcschnell@vaildaily.comVail Valley, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyCat Cora, the Food Network's only female Iron Chef, is headed to the Vail Valley's Master Chef's Classic, which starts Thursday

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Though Fanny Cardoso enjoys creating sweet desserts at Terra Bistro in Vail, Colorado, behind the kitchen’s closed doors, her secret dream is to host a show on the Food Network. “It’s my biggest dream and I will get there someday,” said Cardoso, an assistant pastry chef at Terra Bistro.That’s why Cardoso makes it a priority to volunteer each year for the Bon Appetit culinary festival in Beaver Creek. Last year, when she was still a culinary student at Colorado Mountain College, she worked alongside Cat Cora, one of her favorite television chefs. She helped Cora prep ingredients and handed out Cora’s dish at the festival’s finale, the grand tasting. She also got the chance to work alongside Alex Atala, a famous chef from Cardoso’s home country of Brazil. “We’re in Vail, so far away from the big cities and sometimes we lose opportunities because of that,” she said. “These chefs, they’re not just famous in the United States, they’re famous in the world. Getting together with them, seeing what they’re doing, that’s the best thing about this event.”And indeed, the eight guest chefs -and their food – are the focus at this year’s festival, which is in part why organizers changed the name from Culinary & Wine Focus to Master Chef Classic, dropping the reference to vino because the festival is focused almost entirely on gourmet eats.”This year, more than ever, we’re doing more small workshops, really intimate classes where you can work one-on-one with the chefs,” said Kyle Deighan, the event and marketing manager for Beaver Creek. At first glance, the concept surely seems to have worked. More than half of the nine events sold out weeks ago. At press time, tickets were still available for Thursday’s sushi workshop with Chef Hidekazu Tojo of the restaurant Tojo in Vancouver; the Master Chef Challenge at the Vilar Center Friday night; Saturday’s Spago Wine Luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton; and the grand tasting on Saturday night.

Cora, the first and only female Iron Chef in the history of the Food Network show, is taking part in the 12th annual Bon Appetit Master Chef Classic for the fourth year in a row. The event kicks off Thursday in Beaver Creek with two classes and a master chef dinner. Cora, Bon Appetit’s executive chef, will lead a snowshoe excursion and luncheon on Friday, emcee the Master Chef Challenge at the Vilar Center on Friday night and participate in the Grand Tasting at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch on Saturday. Though Cora has been busy raising money for the people of Haiti through her nonprofit Chefs for Humanity recently (she even took part in the telethon last Friday as the only celebrity chef in attendance, she said), she found the time to plan her menu for Bon Appetit. Snowshoe attendees will nosh on chickpea fritters with romenesco sauce, spicy cinnamon roasted pork with fennel and citrus marmalade, and tenderloin with orange chili rub and chimichurri sauce served with truffle orzo. At the grand tasting, Cora will be handing out lamb sliders with tzakiki sauce and greens. “It’s kind of a global menu,” Cora said.

For guest chef Michael Psilakis, this year marks his first year participating in Bon Appetit’s Culinary Classic. Psilakis owns acclaimed New York eatery Anthos and was named best chef of the year by Bon Appetit last year. At his cooking class Thursday he’ll give participants a lesson in modern Greek cooking, which Psilakis calls a “very healthy, vegetable-based cuisine.””I’m a Greek chef and I love being able to go places and cook Greek food,” he said. He’ll be using some traditional Greek ingredients, like lamb, and some that maybe aren’t as well known, like octopus. “A lot of people are afraid of octopus and we’re going to try to demystify that. It’s real easy to cook and quite delicious,” Psilakis said. There will also be a shellfish dish cooked using a traditional clay pot – “like a Greek paella,” Psilakis said – and for dessert, greek yogurt topped with quince preserves and crushed Jordan almonds. “I always try and talk about Greek yogurt. It’s a really big deal for me and I use it a lot to enrich sauces in lieu of butter and heavy cream. It adds a lot of flavor.”At Saturday’s grand tasting event, Psilakis will be serving a dish – raw fish with Mediterranean toppings – that’s Greek with Asian tones. “One of the signature things we have at Anthos are raw dishes. We use sashimi, which has a Japanese identity, and incorporate Greek flavor profiles.”The thing about it is it’s a one-bite meal,” Psilakis said. “We’re able to control the whole palate experience and that’s my favorite medium to work in because I can really let the guest know how I think about food.”High LIfe Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

The quince is the most difficult and time consuming element of this recipe. By pairing the sweet fruit with the tart flavor of yogurt, you create a simple, not-too-sweet dessert. Standard supermarket yogurt will not work here unless you drain it overnight. In Greece, Jordan almonds – whole almonds coated with a colored, hard sugar-candy coating – are traditionally wrapped in toile and given as party favors to guests at weddings and christening celebrations. Here, they provide texture and beauty, but you can also choose crumbled halvah, or crystallized ginger. I prefer a combination of all three. So much more fun than the typical granola mix!- Michael Psilakis 2 candied quinces (see recipe, below)1/3 cup Jordan almonds1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) goat’s or sheep’s-milk yogurt, labne, or strained, full-fat yogurt4 leaves of mint, slivered Candied quinceThis same recipe can be made with cherries. My mom always used to make this with cherries, but quince is a quintessentially Greek fruit.Yield: 2 candied quinces 2 quinces, about the size of a large apple, peeled, quartered, and cored2 cups granulated sugar4 cups water7 cloves2 cinnamon sticksZest of 1 whole orange, removed in one thin strip with a vegetable peeler, without any of the bitter white pith Cut the quince quarters into long strips about 1/4-inch thick and wide.In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water to make a simple syrup: Stir to dissolve and add the cloves, cinnamon sticks, and orange zest. Add the quince and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer gently in the syrup until slightly pink from the cinnamon and cloves, very tender and almost completely translucent but not falling part. This may take up to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a sterilized jar and cool down quickly in an ice bath (this will improve the keeping time). Press a square of plastic wrap down directly into the surface of the syrup. Place another square of plastic over the rim of the jar and top with the lid or a rubber band. Replace the square of plastic that touches the preserves each time you use some and use a perfectly clean spoon each time to prevent cross-contamination from other surfaces in your kitchen. To serve:Prepare the candied quince, if you have not already done so.Crush the Jordan almonds with the side of a knife, then chop coarsely to a chunky granola-ish consistency.With an ice cream scoop or two large spoons, form quenelles of the thick yogurt and put two on each plate. Scatter with the candied quince and drizzle with some of the spicy syrup. Scatter with the crushed Jordan almonds and a few slivers of mint.Serves 4

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