Around the Ranch
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to prepare the menu ACES Snow Moon Dinner, an event for Donor’s Circles members (click here to learn more about our Donor's Circles program). I worked as a professional chef for many years prior to transitioning to farming and host our farm to table events during the summer, so “catering” events is not necessarily a new experience for me.Just another event - or so I thought - and I went about writing the menu as I have for the past several years with ACES.
Step 1. Find out what is in season and locally available.
Naturally, I was able to take a few steps over to the Rock Bottom Ranch hoophouses to find salad mix, arugula, kale, and pea shoots (in early February, mind you.) A quick trip to the Ranch freezer and I was able to grab pork, lamb and a few other goodies. A phone call down the road to Mountain Primal Meats secured beef. A text message to Avalanche Cheese acquired cured meats and artisan goat cheese. A quick email to Farm Runners found a plethora of ingredients including kohlrabi, sunchokes, oyster mushrooms, apples, potatoes, lavender, onions, garlic, beets, and winter squash. The menu started to write itself…
While securing local foods for our event menus is certainly achievable during the summer months, it didn’t strike me until the car ride home after the event that this menu of local foods came together in the middle of winter in the Rocky Mountains! We were able to create an incredible menu build almost entirely around products from 13 Colorado farms. Admittedly, there are pantry items like olive oil, salt, pepper, chocolate and coffee (locally-roasted) scattered throughout the menu, but the vast majority of ingredients came from local farms.
Additionally, the menu was not only sourced from local farms – but it featured one of a kind artisan products. At Avalanche Cheese, Kevin McCullen made the cheese from goats milk from their farm in Paonia, hand wrapped in cloth bandages and aged in a temperature and humidity controlled room right around the corner in Basalt. The honey lavender vinaigrette used lavender flowers grown near Paonia and apple cider vinegar was both sourced and made at Rock Bottom Ranch. The apples came from a 100-year-old apple tree on a neighbor’s property on Hooks Spur Road, were pressed at the Ranch on a hand-turned apple press, fermented in glass carboys, and bottled and aged for over a year.
I had two mini epiphanies on that drive home:
#1. Sourcing local ingredients is engrained in me and should be in every chef. This is the entire purpose of ACES’ Chef in Residence program – exposing a chef to local, seasonally produced food for a single summer and change the way they cook forever.
#2. It was surprising to me was just how easy this food was to source, even in January at high altitude. It just took a few minutes of coordination and creativity. Most of our valley’s so-called “Farm to Table” restaurants take a good first step in sourcing some items for their menu. But a lot of these restaurants stop at just one item, and source the remainder from a large purveyor. Don’t get me wrong; there are some incredible valley restaurants that do source a significant portion of their foods from local sources – check out Town, Silo and Free Range, to name a few.
So next time you are in a restaurant, ask where the items come from. And if they tell you that its winter and not much is available, give them my email and I’ll happily point them to some sources!
- Full supply of our locally famous, pasture-raised, non-GMO, Animal Welfare Approved, delicious chicken eggs (With the longer days, the egg production is increasing daily!)
- Salad mix, arugula and kale are available in limited quantities.
Products can be purchased at Ranch during open hours.
Please call at least one business day in advance to confirm availability or to place an order for pick-up.
Salad can also be purchased at Meat & Cheese Farm Shop in Aspen while supplies last. Our friends at Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar in downtown Basalt have several items on their menu including kale, arugula, pea shoots and select pork cuts.
Rock Bottom Ranch is open Monday – Friday 9AM – 5PM with Farm Tours Wednesdays and Fridays at 11AM. For questions about Rock Bottom Ranch please email Jason at [email protected]
~ Jason Smith, Rock Bottom Ranch Director