Pure gold | VailDaily.com

Pure gold

Wren Wertin
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyGolden Eagle Executive Chef Marshall Blanchard.

Executive Chef Marshall Blanchard may be a brand new father – welcome to the world Stella Jane – but he’s been delivering tasty morsels to the Vail Valley for years. The man in The Golden Eagle Inn’s kitchen is a fun-loving concert-goer who plays with his food. Eating in his restaurant is to experience one of life’s most basic essentials: good and interesting food in warm company. The Golden Eagle Inn serves up a creative American menu built on local elk and fresh fish. Though the rest of the world might describe Blanchard’s culinary influences as “Pacific Rim” or “Asian fusion,” he forges on without pretense. “I like a lot of Oriental flavors,” he said. Married to a vegetarian, Amy, he’s as excited about veggies as he is fish. It’s a good time to be a chef.”Ten years ago, you couldn’t put beets in front of someone,” he said. “Now, they’re actually trendy.”

And Blanchard does love a good beet. One of the great finds on his menu is the roasted chioggia beet salad, so big the slices look like fat beefsteak tomatoes. Naturally sweet, the beets are enhanced with Cypress Grove cheese, truffle oil and a peppery micro arugula. The smoked sea salt, coarse and crunchy, is the piece de resistance.The pistachio-crusted goat cheese and date salad is sweetened with an elusive vanilla-brown butter vinaigrette. Don’t ignore the chickpea pappadum, crispy and pungent. The duck wontons are a menu favorite, and the ahi, crab and avocado stack is a good one to pass around the table. Besides boasting the love of a good woman, part of what keeps Blanchard’s cuisine so fresh is his commitment to refreshing his own spirit daily. No matter how busy the restaurant is during the winter, he sneaks out the back door and puts on his skis to take a run or two. Last year, he logged 123 days on the slopes of Beaver Creek. He’s only able to play hooky if he’s surrounded by a good crew. To that end, the staff at The Golden Eagle works as a team. Manager Don Bird has been running the restaurant for years, and server Tim Eddy never seems to get frazzled as he goes from table to table, offering recommendations and anticipating needs.

The restaurant conjures the feeling of a small European mountain town. The booths and tables are cozy, not cramped. Open-windowed walls break up the room, making it seem more like a home than a restaurant. Chef Marshall’s favorite seating area is the patio, filled with white umbrellas and ringed by flower boxes. They’re brimming with all manner of flowers, and tucked here and there are chives, thyme and other fresh herbs. Blanchard’s got moxie, as evidenced by his sesame-roasted duck with a beautifully crisp skin. Sure, the tamarind glaze is merely unusual, not crazy, as are the diced apples with five spice. But the sheer audacity of piling the whole shebang over honest-to-god fried rice – yes, with egg, yes, with pineapple – is risky. And it works. Really well. The dish is succulent and savory and generous enough to share with curious dining companions. Of course elk makes many appearances on the menu, as the restaurant’s proprietor also owns Twin Creek Game Ranch in Silt. Elk meatloaf, peppered elk medallions and coffee-dusted elk loin are all atypical treats. But Chef Blanchard describes himself as “more of a fish guy.”The dynamite-crusted sea bass with shrimp and scallops includes a mango-ginger syrup that evokes the islands, while the black rice soaks up a coconut broth. It’s another example of balance, and his penchant for Asian flavors.

As a kid, Blanchard knew he liked cooking, but he didn’t know he’d end up doing it professionally.”I started college at CU, but it ended up being Ski-U,” he said, telling on himself. “I was working in kitchens at night, and I thought, ‘Why not pursue this?’ Like most chefs, I’m not a 9-to-5 kind of guy .”So the chef-to-be headed back East and attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, a demanding school at the top of the culinary ladder. It was a far cry from his sixth-grade cooking class. His focus was the baking program, where he perfected hearth breads made with natural yeast. “All our sandwiches come on house-made focaccia,” Chef Marshall said. “We make all of our breads fresh daily.”

As a kid, he was rather adept at making coffee cake. Now, any baked good is fair game. He often shares the secrets of artisan baking at food seminars in Beaver Creek. A child born into the ritual of family dinner, Blanchard equates food with sharing. Though he spends his days behind a stove, he says he’s happy to get home and cook dinner for Amy, as it never feels like work. The two dashed to Loveland and got married last Valentines Day in a group ceremony at 12,000 feet. “It’s really a good time to be a chef,” Blanchard said. “Food and chefs are getting to be more of a noble profession. People are interested in different foods. It keeps me on my toes, looking for new items. The Internet and Fed Ex have changed the restaurant industry.”And so have creative souls like Blanchard.

Vail, Colorado

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