Christopher Rybak wants to take his guests on a culinary tour of the world, and his method of transportation is the Moonlight Dinner series, held annually during the winter season at the Black Mountain Lodge at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
Rybak, who is executive chef and director of food and beverage, came to the lodge five years ago and decided he wanted to do something fun with it.
“We had this beautiful building with the Black Mountain Lodge, and I thought we weren’t using it enough … and wanted to come up with some ideas for what we can do at night,” he said.
At the time, the old Exhibition Chair was there, which could ferry guests up to the lodge in time for dinner, but it didn’t run in the dark. So Rybak and his colleagues came up with the snowshoe series — the original name of the Moonlight series. The ideas was that guests would ride the lift up to the lodge, enjoy a delicious meal, then hike down the hill at the end of the night with snowshoes and headlamps.
Now, the hiking part isn’t necessary, as the upgraded high-speed chair works perfectly well in the evening. However, Rybak said, people still enjoy making their own way down the hill at the end of the night.
“It is absolutely breathtaking and it’s only about a 20-minute hike down the mountain,” he said. “I still encourage a lot of people to do it, because it’s a really great way to end the night.”
Every year, Rybak does about five dinners in the series, as well as a New Year’s Eve dinner. The first dinner of 2013, taking place Saturday, Jan. 11, is already sold out. The theme is “A Night in France,” with dishes from the French countryside. The following dinner, on Feb. 15, is “A Night in Spain,” and currently has about 30 reservations still available, although those will go fast, Rybak said. Following that will be “Foods of the Pacific Rim” on March 15, and “A Night in Italy” on April 12.
“Italy is always popular and sold out,” he said. “I usually do it earlier in the season; this year I did it in April because I know it will draw people.”
Choosing the themes is a matter of personal interest for Rybak.
“I like to do things where I can challenge myself a little bit,” he said. He is classically trained, so “not all of it is a challenge. I mean, French and Italian come pretty natural to me. I love to dabble with Asian food; (I am) very intrigued with Spanish food. It’s sort of just idea-driven. … It’s just a way to challenge my cooks, challenge myself. That’s where the themes come from.”
Each evening starts with hors d’oeuvres and a complementary aperitif, followed by soup, salad and entrees, finishing with a plate of small desserts.
February’s A Night in Spain dinner will feature a series of tapas, in addition to various entrees. Rybak said he usually confirms the menu the month of the dinner, and it may change depending on what foods are available at the time.
“I try to see what’s going to be available from a seafood standpoint, what I can fly in, what I can resource, what I can do,” he said.
For the Foods of the Pacific Rim dinner in March, Rybak is “definitely going to play a little bit with Vietnamese food, probably a little Thai food. It’s just going to be a sort of a fusion of a lot of different things.”
Rybak doesn’t always pair drinks with his dinner, though he tries to get something related to the region. German beer if he’s serving German food, for example, or French wines for French food. For atmosphere, there is live music — a local band or, when possible, a musician or group of musicians representing the music of the region.
Dress is casual, especially for those planning on hiking down the mountain afterward.
“It’s more about people come to the Basin to enjoy some unique food and a party atmosphere. We throw a great party,” Rybak said. “It really it really turns out to be a couple hundred of my closest friends. People get to meet people that they may not know; they sit together. People come month after month. I have couples that have not missed dinners, so it’s a pretty diverse group of guests that come and it turns out to be a great party.”
Guests don’t have to be gourmands to enjoy the dinners, said Rybak. “Anybody would appreciate it.”
They just need to be sure they get reservations in time, he added. “They sell out pretty quick, and if people are interested they need to go to (www.arapahoebasin.com) and follow the links to the reservations.”