Much ado about Piemonte
Vail, CO Colorado
Tuxedos on top, jeans and boots on the bottom? Must be a Chaine dig. Last Tuesday, the Vail chapter of the international gastronomic society, Chaine des Rotisseurs, held a Chefs of Chaine Summertime in Piemonte dinner. Unusual for the group of dedicated gastronomes, the event was open to the public. And what an event it was.
It was the result of an extensive collaboration between David Walford, Brian Ackerman, Quintin Wicks and Alex Daly, of Splendido at the Chateau; Steve Topple, of The Sonnenalp; Daniel Joly, of Mirabelle; Justin Hugill, of QUINNtessential (in Denver); Steve Lewis, of Giuliana Imports; and Suzanne and Dan Hoffmann, officers of the Chaine des Rotisseurs, Bailliage de Vail.
Splendido was the host restaurant – chef-owner Walford often opens his kitchen to various celebrity chefs when they’re visiting for the food festivals Beaver Creek has been nurturing. To watch the chefs, (all professionals in skills and attitude) work together, it was obvious “too many cooks in the kitchen” just didn’t apply.
Ostensibly, each chef was responsible for a passed hors d’oeuvre and a course. (“We couldn’t have just four hors d’oeuvres out there, so we did two,” Walford said, referring to his staff, which brought the number of passed apps to five.) But once the chefs hit the kitchen – and more importantly, that gorgeous piece of green granite that serves as a prep table and hotspot in Splendido’s exhibition kitchen – it was all hands on deck, helping one another out. When Hugill walked away from sauteing his sofrito to confer with Kate Tonge, Splendido cook, on the 90-plus servings of tajarin she was cranking through the pasta machine, Walford casually wandered over to the pan and gave it a good toss, easily churning the diced veggies from the bottom to the top and vice versa, still instructing a prep cook on how he wanted the pristine slices of scallop arranged on the trays. Ackerman and Joly stood together, carefully rolling exclamatorily (and delightfully) seasoned goat meatballs around mozzarella slivers. Topple inhabited the salad station with his trays of Spanish mackerel in a zesty lemon marinade, speaking to one of Splendido’s chefs about where he could find particular tools. Wicks wandered from the grill to the granite to the saute station, keeping an eye on several projects at once. The only chef who seemed immune to the buzz in the kitchen was Daly, in his pastry station as always, contemplating the shapes of raspberries and lost in thoughts of wafers and chocolate. (It should be said here by a girl who can take or leave chocolate – and usually leaves it … Wow.)
But that was all behind the scenes. The party for most people was happening out in the dining room. First, new members were inducted into the by-invitation-only group – seven new members, though Suzanne Hoffman inducted two chefs earlier this year and accepted a transfer from another chapter abroad. After that, the dinner began in earnest. Everyone was gussied up, as per the dress code, Rocky Mountain black tie. As mentioned earlier, that meant the men wore tuxedos on top and got cowboy-ed out on the bottom. Women wore satins and silks and clingy, sexy things that sparkled. And everyone talked about food. Whether it was restaurants in Paris or a new Tuscan olive oil on the market, the language of flavors was very much present.
All Chaine events have a theme; this one was Piemonte.
“The chefs chose to do simple, truly Italian flavors,” Suzanne Hoffman said. “I wanted to have the focus of a region, not just a country. Since I am so familiar with Piemonte and most Americans know Tuscany, it seemed appropriate. Most of all, we know the Piemonte wines and I knew working with Steve Lewis, of Giuliana Imports, we could obtain some lovely wines that would distinguish our dinner from all the others in the valley.”
Suzanne Hoffman is the Bailli of the Vail Chapter. That can be translated to something close to “president,” but she’s more than that. Her passion and dedication elevate the title from a position to a way of life. She loves all things Chaine.
“I love Chaine and what Chaine stands for,” she said.
She’s attended national and regional events of the organization which, it bears mentioning, was founded in Paris in 1248 by the guild of meat roasters. Not simply a dining club, the Chaine is involved in nurturing young chefs who help propel the culinary (and hospitality) arts.
“Without the chefs, we’re dead,” said member Jim Kugeler, when asked to describe the different types of members (and the colorful sashes they wear). Restaurant owners, cooking educators and other food professionals make up a great deal of the organizations member rosters; but as Kugeler, a former member of the United States’ Culinary Olympics team, put it, it boils down to the chefs, who continue to feed the world.
“‘Dining with a purpose’ is what I call it,” Suzanne Hoffman said.
Though Tuesday’s dinner had many purposes – to raise funds and awareness for local chefs in training, to invite non-members to have a rare view of the members-only club, as well as to celebrate the wines and cuisine of Piemonte – at the end of the night, it was a tasty way to spend an evening. From the antipasti to the pasta, the chefs’ presented multiple delightful courses to a very appreciative crowd.
For more information on the local chapter, visit http://www.facebook.com/chainevailvalley.
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A Nov. 30 to Governor Polis and the Eagle County Commissioners from Beaver Creek Resorts Company – as well as the towns of Vail, Avon, Eagle and Minturn – requests a variance program which would allow businesses to remain open.