Wolfgang Puck to open Spago at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch | VailDaily.com

Wolfgang Puck to open Spago at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

Cassie PenceVail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily Spago Bachelor Gulch will feature a hip 34-seat bar and lounge, opening directly off The Ritz-Carlton's great room, with clear glass display towers, etched silver bar tops and swiveling barstools.

BEAVER CREEK – Bachelor Gulch is about to join the ranks of Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and Maui.Wolfgang Puck, America’s most famous chef, is teaming up with The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch to open his legendary fine dining restaurant Spago in late 2007. On Sunday, The Ritz will close Remington’s doors, its current restaurant, to start the $5 million renovation. “This mountain destination provides the perfect setting to create a unique Spago menu,” Puck said. “It will feature our classics from over the years, as well as new signature dishes locally inspired by the Colorado Rockies.”Puck plans to fly in for the restaurant launch next winter, bringing with him chefs Lee Hefter, executive chef of the entire Wolfgang Puck empire, and Mark Ferguson, who will head up the Spago Bachelor Gulch operation. “I’m from Denver, born and raised,” Ferguson said. “I’m getting ready to come home, which is cool. I grew up in the mountains in Vail. It’s going to be good.”

Hefter doesn’t like to define the Spago style as California cuisine, as the media has before, because it’s not so much a style, he said, as it is a philosophy.”It’s a vision,” Hefter said, who’s in town for Taste of Vail as a guest celebrity chef. “Pay top dollar for the best ingredients and prepare it where it’s simple and elegant, but also fun and creative with different ethnic overtones. The philosophy of Spago is to create an experience there – where we combine whole foods with this global introduction of flavors with great service and great wines. That’s what separates Spago.” About 12 to 15 Spago classics – like the smoked salmon pizza, roasted cote de boeuf and the tuna tartar with wasabi and pickled ginger served in miso sesame cones – will all appear on the Spago Bachelor Gulch menu. But Hefter and Ferguson, being a Colorado native, understand that mountain folk demand something different than people living in L.A.”Cool, simple, clean and healthy. We realize people up here are very health conscious,” Hefter said. “We always use Colorado lamb, and in the winter, we’ll have more game and meats, buffalo and elk. In the summer, we’ll get more lighter fare in, when people are out here hiking and doing activities like that.”Spago Bachelor Gulch will also implement Wolfgang’s new “Eating, Loving and Living WELL” program, which is a commitment to sourcing food from local organic farmers and purveyors who practice humane treatment of animals. Recently, the Wolfgang company outlawed foie gras, duck or goose liver, in all their restaurants because of the notoriously cruel methods it takes to produce it.”So many chefs and so many restaurants are trying to do too much, too many ingredients, too many theories and trying to reinvent the wheel, instead of just making you something to eat,” Ferguson said. “I am inspired by the product. I love going to markets, looking at artisinal growers and product makers. We feed heavily off that and pull from within ourselves.”

The ambiance of Spago restaurants is just as famous as its cuisine: sophisticated, sleek and modern. The decor instantly creates a scene. New York-based designer Tony Chi will design Spago Bachelor Gulch with the mountains in mind, keeping the rustic stone and log fixtures of the Ritz, but weaving in modern elements, like clear glass display towers, etched silver bar tops and swivel barstools.In the main dining room, the heavy fabric curtains covering the floor-to-ceiling windows will go, and Chi will replace them with custom vegetable-dyed wood veneer shutters. The shutters will open completely during the day to let in views of Beaver Creek Mountain and close at night, giving the room an intimate feel. An open kitchen will give the dining room a lively buzz. Chi will build private booth seating, separated by glass towers, as well as counter service for a more communal feel, perfect for apres ski.

Unlike Remington’s, where clients were mostly hotel guests, The Ritz hopes Spago becomes a destination restaurant for both locals and visitors up and downvalley.”Wolfgang Puck’s cuisine set inside Tony Chi’s stunning restaurant design will make Spago the premier dining experience in the Vail Valley,” Tom Donovan, general manager of the resort said.”I think it’s going to create a scene,” said Steven Holt, director of public relations at The Ritz. “The key element is reaching out to the locals. We want them to feel welcome.”Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or cpence@vaildaily.com.

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