Buy local, cook big
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Summit County, CO Colorado
The unique taste of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains has been flavoring cable television of late.
Two contestants on the latest edition of the popular reality-competition series “Top Chef,” seen on the Bravo channel, work in the Boulder restaurant world, further solidifying Colorado as a major force in the national dining scene.
Hosea Rosenberg, executive chef of Boulder’s Jax Fish House in Boulder, continues to fare well on the show, which started its season last November.
Rosenberg racked up wins in the preliminary “Quickfire Challenge” and elimination rounds, particularly pleasing diners with his smoked pork loin with chipotle mashed potatoes, braised cabbage and apple jus dish.
With her experience working at several Boulder restaurants, including Centro Latin Kitchen and Refreshment Palace, Melissa Harrison showcased some savory tastes of the mountains, besting the competition in an elimination challenge before having to pack her knives in early January; the judges disagreed with her ahi tuna crudo tacos.
The two have known each for several years and agree there is something special about the Colorado dining experience.
“A lot of people move to Colorado for the food,” Harrison said, emphasizing the variety in local food and farm products. “People are working together to showcase the state, and that movement is putting it on the map.”
Rosenberg said the mountains factor into a more “down to earth” attitude across the region, making for a more relaxed, happy environment that goes into each prepared meal. In Colorado, Rosenberg said, you don’t have the cutthroat spirit found in New York.
“There’s a lot of support (in Boulder and Colorado); it’s all about the camaraderie,” he said of the regional restaurant scene.
The television production environment proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the two, allowing for new friendships and creative growth, while forcing them to overcome the constant presence of the cameras and unfamiliar kitchens. And meeting the Foo Fighters and Martha Stewart wasn’t all that bad, either.
The top chefs agree local agriculture defines the unique essence of Colorado cuisine, an idea that also plays an important role for chefs, restaurants and grocers in Summit County.
Lisa Secco, a private chef based in Frisco, tries to stay local as much possible to promote the state’s natural resources.
“(Staying local) supports the local producers and allows them to succeed, and Colorado has a passion for doing so,” Secco said. “It creates community when you have a relationship with a producer and their food is highlighted in your cuisine.”
Secco noted that local products above all improve the overall quality of a meal.
“It is also one of the best ways to guarantee freshness, and what chef is not concerned about that?” she said. “Colorado has famed agriculture, fish and produce, and a customer’s dining experience is unique when they feel they are tasting all that our Colorado seasons have to offer.”
Though, as compared with Boulder and Denver, where, according to Rosenberg, chefs have access to all the “really awesome stuff” from farmers, Summit County faces some challenges in area distribution.
While he believes Summit County and the Rocky Mountain area “have always been a source of exciting and creative food options,” Tom Paladi, manager of Alpine Natural Foods in Frisco, doesn’t hide the fact that the High Country faces obstacles in offering a wider variety of local products.
As Summit County is more remote, distribution becomes more difficult, thus businesses must rely on year-round support from full-time residents to procure quality ingredients when the tourism season dies down, Paladi said.
Yet, Paladi said the county still succeeds in that cohesive Colorado food movement that Harrison described.
“Despite the difficulties in distribution and selection of food sources because of our remote location relative to Denver and Front Range food outlets, the talent of chefs, cooks, and food preparers in the region is world class,” Paladi said. “The activities that mountain areas offer create an opportunity for attracting strong cook talent … many restaurants and chefs continue to push the envelope in creating their own spins on traditional western cuisine.”
Such innovative western spins remain the goal for Harrison and Rosenberg. Both are still in Boulder ” Rosenberg plans to stay with Jax Fish House, and Harrison is helping with the opening of the Happy Noodle, an Asian meal house.
Perhaps when show promotion dies down, Harrison and Rosenberg will have a chance to get to Breckenridge or Arapahoe Basin, where both enjoy hitting the slopes.
“There’s no better feeling cruising down the mountain on a day off ” you’re out there on a fresh powder day, and you forget all your worries,” Harrison said.
But most likely, they’ll be in the kitchen, striving to add to the art of Colorado cuisine, crafting innovative entrees and appetizers out of local agriculture.
As Harrison said, “We’re not saving lives, but we’re making people happy.”
Top Chef airs Wednesdays on Bravo at 11 p.m. MT, with repeated viewings throughout the week.
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