This weekend, nearly 100,000 people will flock to Denver for A Taste of Colorado to sample local dishes from some of Denver’s top chefs. But if the idea of braving traffic through the Twin Tunnels to stand in line in the hot sun for a few meager bites doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, consider staying closer to home and indulging in some of the best treats the Colorado High Country has to offer.
The Taste of Keystone takes place Sunday in Lakeside Village, where you’ll find inventive tastings from a range of Keystone’s high-caliber chefs.
“It’s to showcase the culinary part of Keystone Resort in small plates,” said Dave Scott, executive chef of mountain dining at Keystone. “We see a lot of local guests here, as well as guests from the Front Range. It gives people the opportunity to try some food that’s indicative of the restaurants without going to the restaurants.”
The setting is casual, but the food is over the top, starting with Scott’s seafood ragout.
“It’s a mixture of a bunch of different fresh seafood — rock shrimp, scallops, oysters, salmon, sea bass — and that’s going to be with shitake mushrooms and leeks, glazed with brandy, on top of the smoked cheddar mashed potatoes,” he said.
Each Keystone restaurant throws its own dish into the ring, meaning there are lots of plates for browsers to choose from, so Scott tried to do something a little different from what everyone else was doing.
“The availability of seafood that we can get nowadays is great,” he said. “I’ve worked here for 12 years, and I have a great relationship with our vendors, so it’s figuring out what I can get to make it work for 1,000 people.”
Scott also works with the Colorado Mountain College culinary apprentice program at the Alpenglow Stube restaurant. Those students will be helping him with his dish.
“The students that are in the Stube will be helping me with it, so it gives them a chance to do something new that’s not on our menu,” he said. “So we mix it up a little bit for those guys so they can stay inspired, as well.”
Executive pastry chef Ned Archibald’s offering for the Taste of Keystone is a repeat favorite, but one that was years in the making. Almost 30 years ago, Archibald was dining at a restaurant in Denver where he was served white chocolate ravioli for dessert. He said the flavors were excellent but the presentation lacked something.
“Why didn’t he take it further and do strawberry sauce for the marinara?” Archibald wondered. “Maybe he didn’t want it to look silly. I didn’t want to steal his idea, but it got me thinking about how to take the basic idea of ravioli with meatballs and spaghetti sauce and take it a few steps further.”
Fast forward a few years, and Archibald was working as pastry chef in a restaurant in San Jose, Calif., where he created a dessert called the Grand Illusion. The dish was white-chocolate “spaghetti” with strawberry “marinara” sauce, and the deceptive look of a savory dish of spaghetti and meatballs was so convincing that people often tried to return it to the kitchen, saying it wasn’t what they ordered.
“I did it on a whim, and it became so popular, the restaurant was getting packed,” he said. “I came out to Colorado 20 years ago and I kept it in my back pocket for quite a number of years; it didn’t feel right for any of our establishments here.”
Archibald first broke out the recipe at a general manager’s summit to rave reviews before making it his go-to Taste of Keystone dish in 2009.
“Every year I think about switching it up — let’s do something different, lots of people come to this event year after year — but each year, I know I’ll have like a following,” he said. “It’s almost eerie, weird creepy: ‘Oh thank god you’re here and we brought 10 people here from Denver and we’re so hoping you’d still have this here.’”
The pastry chef gets some good-natured ribbing from his colleagues about keeping the same quirky, whimsical plate year after year, but the dish is too popular to pull the plug.
“The whole event is meant to get some buzz and get people to have some exposure to Keystone,” Archibald said. “We have great chefs and great restaurants and I just try to be a part of that.”