Taste of Vail chefs revel in spring ingredients
VAIL, Colorado -They come to Vail from Boston, Sonoma and Denver with their knives, some choice ingredients and a couple of Fed Ex boxes brimming with items they’ve prepped in their home kitchens. Guest chefs Frank McClelland, Jennifer Jasinski, Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze represent rather different eateries from coast to coast, but they all share a common love of spring.The three also will be sharing a kitchen tonight for the Chef Showcase Dinner and Live Auction, as well as to prep for the various tasting events they’re participating in over the course of the festival.
the girl & the fig • EstateRestaurateur and creator Sondra Bernstein and executive chef John Toulze represent the rolling hills of California wine country. Their two restaurants, the girl & the fig and Estate, offer up Sonoma cuisine with a French and Italian accent, respectively. The girl & the fig came first. Originally opened at the Glen Ellen winery, when the Sonoma Hotel right on the town’s main square opened up, Bernstein jumped on it and moved the restaurant. It’s a magical little spot, with a welcoming patio and warm service. Time slows down in deference to the French country menu. “It’s not meant to be French – it’s more Sonoma food with a French passion,” Bernstein said. “The country part is really about being in Sonoma and the bounty of the farms, knowing the farmers. The French part is the thing that keeps us on the track.” She also likes how the French seem to eat with style.”The passion they have when eating out, being at the table and enjoying the wine – it’s such an important part of the day,” she said. “It means a lot to be out with your family the friends. … I expect the staff to be well versed on the ingredients and what we offer, but I feel more strongly about our staff embracing the guests.”And part of that embrace at the moment is the coming season of warmth. “It was a long, rainy winter,” she said. Chef Toulze is just as ready for spring as Bernstein. He can’t help but translate the new season into ingredients. “Spring is by far my favorite season,” Toulze said. “The hills are green and the days are clear. I can’t wait for the fava and pea leaves for our salads, and the first flush of artichokes, asparagus, morels and then of course the actual peas.”The duo will be serving asparagus soup with house-made pancetta, roasted lamb loin, chickpea fries and lamb jus at the dinner. At the Grand Tasting, they’ll be sharing their sweetbreads roulade.
L’Espalier • Sel de la TerreFrank McClelland found his way into the kitchen by walking through the fields. Growing up on his grandparents’ farm, he had a relationship with food right from the get-go. The chef-owner of L’Espalier and Sel de la Terre has a lot of irons in the fire, including his own working farm that supplies a fair bit of the products used in his kitchens. Taste of Vail attendees will get to sample a couple items brought directly from the Apple Street Farm, where McClelland often can be found digging around in the dirt.But he’s most famous for his unstinting dedication to not just the products he uses, but how he uses them.”I’ll be bringing a little New England-style cuisine to Vail,” he said. “The cuisine of New England is really about using the local products we have. A lot of that comes from the water. There are so many day boats on our coast, and we’re able to use a lot of those resources to benefit our cuisine. All of that shellfish, the cod, the bass, the lobster – it’s magnificent.”At the festival he’ll be sharing some of that famed New England cuisine – specifically lobster clam chowder as well as pine-cured salmon crepes with juniper berries.But he’s not limited to seafood. Morels from the hills, fiddlehead ferns from the forests and intensely sweet carrots from his farm all have a place in his cuisine. And they all say the same thing to him: spring.”One great benefit of New England is the dramatic season changes,” he said. “I can’t imagine any place I’d rather cook.”And he’s sharing. Some of those newly foraged morels will appear in Vail, swimming in a broth with escargots and wild leeks. Chef McClelland is known for elevating some very traditional cooking styles by deconstructing them and re-presenting them. “We like to change them, have fun with them,” McClelland said. “We like to reevaluate them, and I guess update them, to make them accessible again.”And judging from the storied history and reputation of his restaurants, he’s succeeded.
Rioja • Bistro VendomeFor foodies, spring means green treasures: lettuce, asparagus, peas, garlic shoots and more. Denver Chef Jennifer Jasinski relishes in nature’s newly-sprung bounty, and creates new dishes that highlight the delicate flavors. Take for instance a dish she’ll be serving at the Taste of Vail’s Chef Showcase Dinner Friday night. She’s making spring pea raviolis, filled with spring pea mousse, and topped with fresh English peas, morels and spring garlic.”I always get excited by the change in seasons, and especially spring,” Jasinski said. “Things just get so green and bright – I love it. Spring garlic, peas, morel mushrooms, of course these things aren’t new, they come around every season, but that’s what has me excited.”The ravioli dish would have been next to impossible to create last month, at least using local ingredients, which is something Jasinski strives to do with each dish she plates.Jasinski owns two restaurants in Denver – Rioja and Bistro Vendome – and her third, an American tavern called Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, is set to open in Denver this summer. A Culinary Institute Alum, she counts Wolfgang Puck, whom she worked for more than 10 years, as one of her greatest mentors. This year, Jasinski is a nominee for the James Beard Foundation best chef Southwest.It’s her second time attending the Taste of Vail as a spotlight chef.”I plan the menu for Taste of Vail by first thinking about what is seasonally available and also what might be a Colorado product, as with my lamb,” she said. “Then I think about what I can execute well so the Rioja quality gets to the guest.”At Saturday’s Grand Tasting, Jasinski is making saffron and Manchego cheese risotto with Colorado lamb shoulder. A testament to her love of Mediterranean flavors, she plans to braise the meat in romesco – a rustic sauce traditionally made with nuts, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and peppers.”With the Grand Tasting you are cooking at a table for 500 people, so it has to be something that will get to the guest and be fabulous,” she said.
What: Chef Showcase Dinner and Live Auction.Where: Lodge at Vail.When: 6 to 10 p.m. tonight.Cost: $195.More information: Visit http://www.tasteofvail.com.