Reinventing a Beaver Creek eatery | VailDaily.com

Reinventing a Beaver Creek eatery

Suzanne Hoffman
Behind the Scenes
The smile says it all. Toscanini Ristorante Executive Chef Paul Wade revels in being back in whites and bringing together a new culinary team for a restaurant revitalization.
Kristin Anderson | Special to the Daily |

If you go ...

Restaurant: Toscanini.

Location: Next to the skating rink in Beaver Creek Village.

Reservations: Recommended.

More information: www.toscaninibeavercreek.com/toscanini/ or 970-754-5590.

When NBC created its Symphony Orchestra in 1937, they hired world-famous maestro Arturo Toscanini. Vail Resorts, seeking to re-launch its struggling high-profile Beaver Creek restaurant bearing the immortal maestro’s name, brought culinary maestro and turnaround artist, Executive Chef Paul Wade, back into the corporate family. With 36 years of award-winning culinary professional experience, including a proven track record creating and launching successful restaurants and delivery teams, Wade was the perfect choice to re-invigorate the restaurant.

I’ve known Wade for several years through his membership in Chaine des Rotisseurs and from working behind the scenes at Leonora in the Sebastian when he served as food and beverage director in that restaurant’s re-branding. I seized upon the opportunity to work with him now that he was once again in whites and cooking.

When the day arrived, I confronted a slight case of nerves. It was nine months since my last stage at The 10th on Vail Mountain, another Vail Resorts’ restaurant that Wade played a large role in successfully launching. Then, I was a bit lost in the dynamic energy of that huge restaurant. But in Toscanini’s compact, warm setting, once I donned my white jacket, blue striped apron and now-famous flowery clogs, I easily fell into the busy kitchen routine.

SERIOUS BUSINESS OF CHEESE

The first task was to find Wade. He had greeted me enthusiastically at 2 p.m., but quickly disappeared. I peeked into his tiny office he shares with General Manager Lana Gordon. It would be an unhealthy experience for a cat if he had swung into that space. Accordingly, Wade holds meetings in the walk-in cooler. That’s where I found him in deep conversation with his Minnesota-born chef de Cuisine John Zavoral.

Like all the products included in his cuisine, cheese is serious business at Toscanini. Wade serves discerning guests housemade mozzarella fior di latte (a high moisture cow milk cheese), burrata, goat milk ricotta and soon on his cheeseboard, farmhouse cheddar. Wade had already begun a batch of cheddar, so he assigned me to mozzarella preparation.

On the prep kitchen’s stainless table, Wade placed an empty large metal bowl and container with two 15-pound blocks of densely compressed mozzarella curds.

“Tear them into small pieces like this,” Wade said before turning back to several large, steaming pots he was minding on the stove. He was in perpetual motion, never missing anything going on his kitchen, always there to guide and motivate his newly formed team.

With my gloved arthritic hands already sore from tearing incredibly dense curds, I distracted myself and engaged in light banter with Wade and his team. Approximately 40 minutes later, 30 pounds of shredded curds were ready for a bath in hot, but not boiling, water in a large randeau pot on the stove. While the curds softened, Wade directed apprentice chefs Addison Fleming and Brian Armstrong to prepare a large ice bath and double glove their hands. They were going to form what became 48 mozzarella balls.

This came a huge relief to me. When I worked at Frank Bonanno’s Luca d’Italia in Denver a few years ago, I was given this task. Despite the gloves, my hands quickly took on a boiled lobster color. I was woefully deficient in my ball forming skills. It requires quick, skillful work otherwise the cheese becomes hard. Once formed, the balls are dropped into the prepared ice bath to cool and then stored in salted whey. Under Wade’s guidance, the nascent chefs quickly learned the technique required to keep Toscanini well stocked to meet demand. Wade estimates they will use 80 pounds of mozzarella and 100 pounds of burrata over the busy Christmas holidays.

NORTH AFRICA MEETS ITALY

I seized the opportunity to assist Zavoral toss raw lamb shanks in a spice rub. Here’s where I first encountered the strong North African influence in Wade’s cuisine.

“When the Moors overran Italy,” Wade said, “it changed the course of cuisine forever. The result was not only fascinating historically, but delicious.”

The lamb shanks comprise half of the duet of local lamb on Toscanini’s menu. Rack of lamb is the other half. Judging from the number of orders I helped expedite later that evening, it’s obviously one of Toscanini’s most popular main dishes, “secondi” in Italian.

First, I generously coated the shanks in a mixture of harissa — the increasingly popular hot Moroccan spice — salt and pepper then placed them on sheet pans. Next came a quick trip in a searing hot oven before being plunged into a hot veal stock bath of caramelized aromatics — carrot, onion, celery, fennel — bouquet garni and smoked ham. Eight hours later, the shanks are fork tender. On the line during service, shanks are married with two grilled rack of lamb chops, goat cheese ravioli and broccoli rabe.

Next, Wade assigned me the task of preparing merguez Stromboli he would serve as a banquet hors d’oeuvre. The merguez transported me back to my beloved — and much missed — life in Switzerland. Thanks to the French connection with North Africa, the spicy lamb sausage became popular in Europe in the 1990s. The Swiss butchers I frequent pride themselves in their own creations. Wade is no different.

Wade’s merguez start with a mixture of local lamb, lamb fat, cumin, ground fennel seeds and sumac, all signature spices of Moroccan cuisine. Next, the ingredients are brined and marinated, ground, stuffed in lamb casings and slightly air dried. The result is a relatively thin sausage about 4-inches long. The Europeans enjoy merguez grilled and often use it as a spicy meat on pizzas. When I asked Wade what he uses the approximately 20 pounds he makes each week, his answer was pure Wade, “Whatever excites me at the moment.”

NOT A BORING DISH

As service began, attention shifted to the hot line in the open kitchen where Wade energetically showed me how to prepare Toscanini’s popular wild boar gnocchi. The dish begins with house-cured wild boar belly sourced from Prairie Harvest in South Dakota. The three-day process includes 18 hours of braising to produce a fork-tender, delicious belly.

Assembling the dish begins in a lightly oiled small sautee pan. Wade added a generous handful of tender, cooked gnocchi. When the gnocchi puffed, he added a little butter that, with the heat, painted the potato dumplings a golden color. Then came pieces of boar belly, followed by a pork stock deglazing before he added caramelized onion jam, fresh arugula, salt and pepper. He garnished the dish with a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Wild boar gnocchi is also on Toscanini’s popular bar menu at 30 percent off daily from 3 to 5 p.m. Don’t miss this one or any of the dishes on the bar’s Picolli Piatti menu!

My stage with the Toscanini team ended with four hours assisting Chefs Wade and Zavoral expedite. Zavoral was gracious as he patiently explained his expediting technique and what he expected of me. It’s obvious chef Wade’s love of teaching, not standing in the spotlight, has rubbed off on this young chef. With these two passionate culinary professionals guiding their team, the future holds success for Toscanini.

No doubt, Toscanini would approve of this culinary maestro running the restaurant bearing his name.