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Sculpting good taste

Cassie Pence
AE Timber Harth Fish BH 8-15
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CORDILLERA – Brian Bernstein doesn’t play the guitar. Nor does he carve wildlife out of pine. But he can cook, and it’s in the kitchen where Bernstein unleashes his creativity.The new executive chef at Cordillera is first to admit that, conventionally speaking, his artistic skills are pretty slim, which is exactly why he loves cooking. It allows Bernstein to express himself.”I don’t play an instrument. I’m not a painter. Cooking is where my artistic ability comes into play,” Bernstein said.

Inspiration strikes Bernstein randomly, as he’s falling asleep at night or driving up to work among the slowly changing aspens, but he’s always thinking about food. He takes special note when dining out, culling ideas from other top chefs, and Bernstein subscribes to Art Culinare to stay up on trends.”You still have to know what’s hot and what’s not, but everything goes back to the basics,” Bernstein said. “Good food is simple food, but simple food is the most complicated to fix. You buy the best products you can and do as little to them as possible.”Case in point is his signature pan-seared Alaskan halibut at the Timber Hearth Grille. The thick cut of fish is framed in seasonal freshness – an electric green sweet pea puree. The dish is served with a pea tendril salad and herb risotto.”You don’t want to do a whole lot to disguise the flavors,” Bernstein said. “I want the pea puree to taste like pea tendrils, so I had a little vinegar to bring out the flavor.”

His purist approach to food helped land him the job at Cordillera, where he manages menus for all four of the resort’s restaurants. A committee selected him, and member Janet Jones was most impressed with his sincerity, she said, which comes through in his cooking.”I loved his food. It’s very fresh. It’s very simply done, and you really get to the true flavor of the food,” Jones said. “He told us that he was very much into using local foods in season and that really meant a lot to me, too.”Bernstein’s dresses up his minimalist dishes with the vibrant colors and tastes of summer, like his mesclun salad with fresh berries, Roquefort cheese, Colorado peaches and sherry vinaigrette. He maximizes on Colorado’s most famous stone fruit again when pairing grilled peaches with his pork chop, which is also grilled and served with warm potato salad and tobacco onions.

Bernstein takes special consideration when pairing sides for all his entrees, striving for harmony of flavors on the palate. He said his spice crusted American red snapper is a good example, which he has partnered with saffron potatoes, fennel salad and caper cream.A St. Louis native, Bernstein graduated from the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program in 1994 and has worked in the kitchens of Napa Valley’s French Laundry, Charlie Trotters in Chicago, Seegers in Atlanta and the Sheen Falls Lodge in Ireland. He arrived in Cordillera the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, and Bernstein describes the experience as being “thrown to the wolves.” He’s looking forward to the quiet off season to work on his menus, and can’t wait to prepare the hearty fare of winter, a personal favorite, Bernstein said. “I really like doing braised short ribs or osso bucco. It sticks to your bones and is so good.”As a culinary artist, like any other type of artist, Bernstein’s menu will change often, he said, even within the same season, based on creative whims.

“It depends on my frame of mind, the mood I’m in,” he said. “It’s like a painter, I may get a feeling or see something that I’m intrigued by. It could be just an ingredient and I will compose that dish around one certain ingredient.”The Timber Hearth Grille, the mothership restaurant at Cordillera, is located at 655 Clubhouse Drive. It serves lunch daily from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5-9 p.m. Call 926-5588 for reservations.Vail, Colorado


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