TraMonti chefs embrace true Italian cooking | VailDaily.com
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TraMonti chefs embrace true Italian cooking

Cassie PenceVail, CO, Colorado
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BEAVER CREEK Working for free at Cibreo restaurant in Florence, Italy, young chef Alexander Feldman would slice prosciutto for 500 people every day by hand.After that he would grate the days needed Parmesan, moving his hand like a boat through the sea to create long, beautiful cheese curls.

These tasks were just a small part of Feldmans 16-hour day at the famous fine dining restaurant. He cooked soups, carried big crates of tomatoes, and most importantly, tried to soak in as much knowledge as he could from Fabio, the chef and owner.Feldman spent just over a year touring the Tuscan and Bologna regions of Italy biking from place to place and talking his way into some of the countrys best kitchens. He perfected his pasta recipe in Bologna. He tasted olive oil made from olives 12 hours off the tree in Florence. He mastered the language, figured out Italys machismo culture and now hes brought it all back to Beaver Creek, where he cooks and creates the menu at traMonti, as the chef de cuisine.I like how compartmentalized the cuisine is in Italy. Its not like you learn to cook Italian, you learn to cook Florentine Piedmont cuisine, you learn to cook Emilia Romagnollo cuisine, Feldman said.

Feldman describes traMontis food as authentic Northern Italian. Theres many different levels of Italian cuisine, he said, and most of the Italian food people eat in America is from Southern Italy. Feldman draws from food traditions in Tuscan, Emilia Romagna (Bologna) and Piedmont, but hes not afraid to surrender to inspiration. One of the most important lessons Feldman learned while in Italy came from his chef-boss in Bologna, Max Poggi, who taught him how to innovate and create while maintaining authenticity.In Bologna, three separate people took me aside and said, we accepted you, we treated you like family and we entrusted you with our family recipes respect our culture, Feldman said.Respect comes into play when handling ingredients. Theres a reason Italians slice prosciutto by hand or take great pride in slicing perfect Parmesan curls. Italians appreciate the unique quality of each ingredient, and Feldman has adopted the same standards. Its evident when hearing him describe the the panzanella, an Italian bread salad new to traMontis menu for late summer.Its very important to do it in the right order. First you dice the tomatoes and cucumbers to purge out a lot of their juice so it collects at the bottom of the bowl and it adds to your dressing, he said. You mix in red onion and your red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Add in the croutons and it basically soaks up all the goodness, and then add your herbs at the end. Its my favorite way to eat tomatoes.

But Feldman feels its equally important to improvise, too. He equates it to playing music, another art hes familiar with. His parents are both classically trained musicians.You learn music by the book, but you have to learn to express yourself on top of that, he said. Its the same with cooking. You have to do it by taste, you have to do it by eye. If you follow the recipe, it will limit you.Italian recipes are just guidelines, he said, opening up one of his many cookbooks written in Italian. They call for a glass of wine or a handful of herbs, theres not a lot of specifics, leaving room for personal taste.I like to think I make beautiful food, but Im not a detail-oriented guy, Feldman said. Italian cuisine allows expression without effort wasted on precision.The more meticulous side of traMontis cuisine comes from the executive chef Dustin Aipperspach who Feldman said takes his rustic dishes and turns them into works of art.Classically French trained and an accomplished sushi chef with knife skills that would make Zorro envious, Aipperspach said he and Feldman make a pretty good team.Asians invented pasta and the French taught everyone else how to cook, and Alex knows Italian, so we come up with a lot of great stuff, Aipperspach said.Aipperspach prefers simple dishes, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Its a quality he learned from his sushi background.You get a piece of fish and youre not hiding with a bunch of sauce. You taste that fish and you taste where it came from. Thats what were doing at traMonti, were using simple, fresh seasonal items.The figs and the Palisade peaches on the menu are outstanding, he said, but hands down his favorite dish is the steak.Its a simple filet, pan seared, and in the pan we use tiny Italian onions, pancetta bits and de-glaze it with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. We serve it with crispy fried fingerling potatoes and chives for garnish, Aipperspach said. Everything is speaking for itself. The food is not hidden under a bunch of stuff.Aipperspach said after a year at traMonti, he and his crew have finally gotten to where the standards should be with the late-summer menu.Owner and longtime local Jerry Weiss couldnt agree more. You can taste the freshness and homemade quality that you cant get without being here 12 to 13 hours a day, Weiss said of his staff. The Italians would have it no other way.Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail. Contact her at cassandrapence@gmail.com.


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