Colorado’s kaleidoscope of flavor
To taste Colorado you need fresh beets.You also need some fat, juicy peaches, just off the truck from farms down the road, and some crisp green beans plucked out of the dirt from the day before.A rack of local lamb, too. Yes, lamb, encrusted with a distinct olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes and cooked to a heavenly pink hue. Match that with some cubed potatoes and ratatouille made from local produce and you’ve struck gold.There’s still more. Don’t forget the mushrooms and yams for a creamy mountain boletus soup, topped off with a smidge of pumpkin seed oil for accent. Or the local wine – a Fume Blanc and a Cabernet Franc from nearby Garfield Estates in Palisade that are both so surprisingly good they will make you forget about California for the evening.
There’s so much to taste in executive chef Jean Luc Voegele’s A Taste of Colorado at Ludwig’s in the Sonnenalp resort – a whole four courses and two pairings of wine worth of fine cuisine – that it almost seems too much. For the can’t-beat price of $45, however, you’ll find yourself not feeling guilty for over-indulging.”I just created it when I came to Colorado 2 1/2 years ago when I started here at the Sonnenalp in Vail,” Voegele said. “I did a lot of promotions in the past working in Hawaii and Hong Kong and it’s something that I like to do. Promoting the regional food of the area that you are working in is always fun.”The special menu runs through September 18 and features a sampling of the finest the Centennial state has to offer, in terms of local produce, meat and wine. The promotion is not linked to the Denver food festival with the same name.As a native of France and having worked with the bounty of great produce in Europe and in Hawaii, Voegele admitted that he has been pleasantly surprised during his tenure at the Sonnenalp with the options available to him here in Colorado.His special menu has a signature tinge of French cooking as a result of his culinary upbringing, but at the forefront is the unique flavors of this region.
“I would call it Colorado original cuisine with a French twist, a French flair.” Voegele said. “It’s pretty amazing that you can travel the world and find something which reminds you of where you come from. That’s always fun.”With so many different tastes to choose from, one of the hardest things for Voegele and his team of pastry specialist Willy Meyer, sommelier Steven Teaver and sous-chef Bernie Oswald is to decide what to use each year in creating the unique menu. Local farmers and winery owners make those decisions even tougher by bringing their products to Voegele and his staff in hopes of gaining recognition.”I go to food shows, I go to see people and I also get people coming to me who want to help their business, of course,” Voegele said. “It’s ongoing. Sometimes you have to make a tough choice.”Such was the case with choosing Garfield Estates again for this year’s featured wine selections. To accentuate the tastes of the cuisine, Voegele sees wine as the starting point, not the final touch, and chose Garfield’s Fume Blanc and Cabernet Franc as starting blocks around which to build. “We tasted different wines from the area and we found that this was really the (winery) we preferred at this point,” he said. “Sometimes it’s difficult when you have three or four wineries and they really want to represent their products in Vail, but we want to really do what we feel is best for us.”Teaver, whose previous work as a sommelier was in Georgia and Kentucky, said that the local wineries of the Western Slope are a wonderful in-state secret and that this year’s pairings are both exceptional picks.
One of the main draws of the Garfield wines was that the grapes are all grown locally in comparison to other Colorado wineries which import from California.To taste Colorado wines is to taste a little bit of Spain, or maybe Italy, given the drier climate in which the wines are produced. It’s definitely not the taste of Napa, though, which is one reason why making a reservation for A Taste of Colorado is a metaphorical raising of the glass to local treasures. “The ( Fume Blanc) really brings out a lot of the food qualities,” Teaver said. “It’s aged in year-old oak, so it does have a nice oak tannin structure to it, and that helps a lot with the earthiness as well. With the soup being a cream-based soup, having a nice crisp acidic wine really cuts through that and lightens up the whole dish as well.”As for the Cab, which comes decanted, the pairing of the red with the sun-dried tomatoes on the rack of lamb is a symphony of the senses.”With the sun-dried tomatoes, it creates a flavor that is unreal,” Teaver said. “It’s out of sight.” The same can be said for all that is A Taste of Colorado. It’s a sumptuous sampling of freshness that is as pleasing to look at as it is to swallow.
“It’s best if you can serve food from the region because you have clientele coming from all over the world,” Voegele said. “I have a hard time wondering why you would want to have strawberries coming from New Zealand or fish from Australia. Why would you come to Colorado to taste that? It doesn’t make sense Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve tried to use regional products as much as I can. Fresh is the best.”No arguing here. Just don’t forget the beets.Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.comVail, Colorado