by amiee white beazley | June 1, 2010 | Food & Drink
Summer is always an exciting time for Aspen’s culinary scene. Dining alfresco on warm days and cool, starry nights sets up a romantic scene. There is an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and local meats. Chefs gain renewed inspiration from off-season travels, making every restaurant worth revisiting. This season’s influence: the Land of the Rising Sun.
A visit to Snowmass reveals two new Japanese offerings. Buchi has finally opened its doors, near the Elk Camp Gondola, and the impeccable Viceroy Snowmass—where the stellar Eight K Restaurant already boasts many delectable Asian accents on its menu—has converted its hot lunch spot, Nest, into a sushi bar. Viceroy executive chef Rob Zack has recruited Morimoto alum Frances Mo to wield the sushi knife. The new menu showcases Aspen favorites such as yellowtail jalapeño and a selection of special Viceroy rolls.
“This summer, my gut feeling is that you are going to see people at places that are less trendy and much more welcoming,” says Ryan Hardy, executive chef of The Little Nell. “Whether it’s fine or casual dining, we are seeing a whole rollback in terms of what people expect. They are using dining out less as a necessity and more as an experience.”
Hardy knows how to deliver a true culinary experience. After finding great success with growing
and sourcing local produce, pork and game, he sees an emerging market—“a last frontier,” as he calls it—to be tested in his kitchen in local poultry and beef.
The beef on the tips of everyone’s tongues this summer is another import from Japan: Wagyu beef. Specifically, Emma Wagyu. Raised just 18 miles from downtown Aspen, Emma Wagyu are the only true-bred Wagyu cows in the state, roaming a 140-acre ranch in the midvalley. (The Little Nell has exclusive rights to this beef.)
Emma Cattle Co. owner Tom Waldeck, who has called Aspen home for many years, lived much of his life as a businessman. But he also studied dairy farming as a Cornell University undergrad, and he wanted to fulfill his dream of being a farmer. Waldeck considered raising cows, goats and even water buffalo; eventually, he settled on Wagyu, which at his farm are 98 percent grass-fed and then finished with grain, for flavor.
“I was told that I could never be profitable in agriculture, so I had to prove them wrong,” he says. “Wagyu bring in a higher price; they’re tastier and also healthier. Very few know the health aspects.” These include “good fats” (high in omega-3s and -6s), and the meat is so tender that a steak knife is optional.
Waldeck believes his growing business will continue to thrive and is now working with Governor Bill Ritter on establishing a Colorado-certified Wagyu cattle brand.
“This is a state program that will define what can and cannot be called Wagyu,” Waldeck says. “We’re building an industry out here.”
photographs by robert millman (sushi); jason dewey (hardy)