Making memories at Mirabelle
BEAVER CREEK – Daniel Joly doesn’t just cook for a living. He cooks because food is his life.When the Belgian-born chef took over Mirabelle, the charmingly chic restaurant at the entrance to Beaver Creek, in 2000, with his wife, Nathalie, the European eatery became a haven for Joly’s edible passion.The restaurant’s authenticity is evident from the building itself – an elegant turn-of-the-century farmhouse retrofitted with European charm – to its contemporary cuisine with Belgian flavor.Wonderfully understated, Mirabelle tops the list of restaurants to visit in Beaver Creek, as well as the Rocky Mountains.
On a recent summer night, I visited the Master Chef of Belgium at Mirabelle to experience first-hand what all the fuss was about. But that’s just the thing, there was no fuss. The food and the man behind it only appear that way. The evening began the way every evening should, sitting with good company on the front porch amid the flowers and green grass having a glass of Pouilly Fuisse Louis Jadot, a dry white burgundy from France. The wine refreshed our palettes, setting us up for our first taste of Joly’s genius, the amuse busch. The small white plate of halibut carpaccio with olive oil and hints of lemon, lime and orange, accented with a spicy fennel, radish salad was completed with sweet mango and apple. Only an experienced chef could create a dish so alive with flavor. Each ingredient Joly uses serves a daring purpose in his creations far too complex for the average diner to comprehend, yet so simply delicious any palette recognizes the pleasure invading their senses. As the sun began to set and a pink glow painted the sky, we moved inside to the intimate, country-style dining room, ready to discover what else Joly had in store.Taking advantage of the freshest local produce, Joly’s next course revealed slow-roasted Colorado onion and bell pepper made into jam to accentuate the lobster dish drizzled with balsamic reduction. Tomato and basil mousse and black olive and garlic crustini complimented the crustacean cooked to perfection.
When he turned 14, Joly expressed to his father a desire to quit school and learn to cook. His father told him he was crazy, but encouraged his son to pursue his dream. He attended the Brussels Culinary School, and at 20, he earned the title of Best Young Chef in Belgium. Joly, now 38, owns the most rewarded restaurant in Colorado. He doesn’t see it as luck, but a result of knowing what he wanted to do early on in life and years of hard work.Just when my date and I didn’t think it could get much better, the next course arrived. The tuna, seared rare, melted in our mouths combined with warm vegetable ratatouille. Almond paste divided the fish from crisp asparagus atop clam juice bouillabaisse-style broth.Joly goes to the market daily to find the best ingredients. In fact he changes the menu every four to five weeks with respect to product and season, and specials change nightly.”If you don’t have great food to start, you can’t do anything with it,” he said.Unlike many acclaimed chefs, Joly does not rely on lots of cream and butter to produce big flavor. “A lot of people think French cuisine is very heavy, and I don’t think we do that,” Joly said. “I think it’s very healthy.” Like fashion, he says, the restaurant business is trendy.
“I think people want to eat lighter and smaller portions, but they still want the flavor,” Joly said. Even the main course was prepared lightly, without compromising on taste. Vegetable ratatouille and thyme juice sat atop the Colorado rack of lamb plated with celery and potato parmentiere. Roasted elk filet with rhubarb strudel gateau was accented with tri-colored peppers and cognac sauce. My date and I traded plates back and forth, undecided on which we liked better.At the suggestion of the hostess Muriel, we sipped two big cabernets, one from California and one from France. Known for hand-selecting which vintages enter his cellar with the help of longtime bartender Peter Casey, Joly carries about 400 selections mostly from the West Coast and French regions. But it’s not the number of wines in your cellar that matters, Joly said.”It’s more important to have good wine and know what you’re selling than to have a huge selection that’s not very good,” says the chef, who’s also very price-conscience. “I think people can have a good meal, and if they can afford a good bottle of wine, they’d remember dining here.He believes dining at Mirabelle is an experience, starting from the time you call to make a reservation to your meal and your wine, until you get into your car to drive home.
“If people spend $75 to go have a dinner, people expect the best,” Joly said. “When people come shake my hand at the end of the day and say, ‘We had a great time,’it makes my day. When people have one special night a year, like an anniversary, and they choose to come to Mirabelle, it’s all worth it.”Even if you’re not celebrating a special occasion, an evening at Mirabelle becomes a memory that will keep you coming back time and time again.Arts and Entertainment Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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