There is something romantic and exciting about a chef returning to his roots, a place where he began as a line cook almost 20 years ago, to take the lead role. After a successful career in several Roaring Fork Valley kitchens, including a role as executive chef of the Viceroy Hotel in Snowmass Village, Rob Zack has stepped in as executive chef of the Hotel Jerome (330 E. Main St., 970-920-1000). Crafting a new concept at the historic landmark where his career began, Zack gives us an inside look to his haute, seasonal cuisine.
You’re no stranger to opening, or in this case, re-opening hotels. You did it with the Viceroy Snowmass. How has the experience been with the Hotel Jerome re-launch?
ROB ZACK: I guess I like to throw myself into these stressful situations, much to my wife’s chagrin. But with the remodel, and Tony and I being here, it really changes this hotel for the better. The rooms are beautiful, and the overall look is holding onto its Jerome and Aspen character, but with a contemporary feel. I’m excited about that.
Tell us about your role at the hotel and new restaurant, Prospect.
RZ: I oversee everything: The new restaurant, Lobby Lounge, Garden Terrace, J-Bar. I focus on seasonality. I got to meet with Thomas Keller recently and he talked about chefs being aware of your surroundings. I started to think about that with things I’ve done over the years. If you find a good ingredient, how much do you really know about it, and what does it tastes like? I want to concentrate on what is around me and then concentrate transforming those into a world-class dish.
Since you started at the Jerome in 1994, you’ve been in several other kitchens, including your own at Crave in Basalt. How have you grown as a chef?
RZ: I’ve learned the importance of sticking to the basics, to your roots, and not cooking for myself, but to cook for my customers. Just because I like it, it’s not always what the customer wants. I’m keeping it simple and giving people what they want.
I had an incredible butterfish dish at Prospect prepared with black truffles, wrapped in potato, and served with celery root puree and a Brussels sprout salad. It was my favorite dish of the season. Is this the direction we should expect in the summer months?
RZ: As for the next few months, I plan on doing research for the summer menu. I'm looking forward to summer and the produce it can provide. We will be introducing an a la carte brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday, and a small-plate menu in the living room, with items such as Tuscan Kale Chips. Additionally, I’ll be traveling to Bend, Oregon, to do a dinner with our sister property, Pronghorn. I’ll introduce some local products to Oregon like Colorado Lamb and 7X beef. I’ll also kick off our Auberge Culinary Education Series. We will be doing monthly food and wine classes here at the hotel for our guests. Should be fun.