Fresh from the Ground Up

The farm-to-table movement takes root in the Vail Valley.

By Rosalie Hill Isom June 1, 2011 Published in the Summer/Fall 2011 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

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On summer Saturdays, dish! Chef Jenna Johansen visits the Edwards Farmers’ Market, often arriving in pajamas early enough to see grasshoppers and wet soil still clinging to produce fresh from the farm. Like other valley chefs who embrace farm-to-table cooking, Johansen incorporates whatever local farmers proffer into her flexible menu. If one week yields plums, she adds a plum dessert. Another week, she may weave in beets or beans. “When food is in season, it’s less expensive and more flavorful,” she says. “Why would you not want to cook that way?” 

Fairly recently, farm-to-table cooking became de rigueur among chefs in the know. Today, the term has entered the vernacular, signaling a shift from trendy buzz to a movement with roots. Savvy eaters know it’s not enough to buy food with “organic” slapped on the label. Food that’s grown closer to home, generally on small-scale farms, offers healthier options and reduces the food industry’s carbon footprint to boot.

Perhaps you’ve already embraced the idea and mingle lithely with chefs like Johansen at farmers’ markets. Now it’s time to take your principles on the road, because a slew of Vail Valley restaurants employ these ingredients in their menus.

Like Johansen, chef Kelly Liken finds produce for her namesake restaurant in Vail from farmers’ markets. The Top Chef finalist, who so pleased Michelle Obama’s palate when the First Lady dined in Vail that Mrs. Obama invited her to cook at the White House, takes her commitment to sustainable food a step further: she works with the local Sowing Seeds organization to teach children to grow their own food.

A number of restaurants further shorten the distance to your table by cultivating ingredients in their own gardens to complement what they buy locally. Along with dish!, Chris Irving and Pollyanna Forster co-own eat!, another must-try establishment in Edwards. Says Irving, “Our herb garden at the front is beautiful, and we are growing more kale this year. Our fish is line-caught, no nets. The chicken is organic, no injections.”

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Restaurant Avondale’s Chef Jeremy Kittelson serves produce from an on-site garden and from local farms, where he has built long-standing relationships with farmers.

At the base of Beaver Creek, Mirabelle’s chef and owner Daniel Joly uses his own fresh ingredients to create elegant French dishes. “At the back of Mirabelle, we have the luxury of ground,” he says. “It’s just logical.” What comes out of that parcel of earth is mouth-watering: rhubarb, oregano, thyme, green onions, watercress, fresh mint, and rosemary. Joly also grows baby jalapeños to add spice to certain desserts, like the raspberry jalapeño chocolate tart and chocolate truffles jalapeño.

At Avon’s West Coast–themed Restaurant Avondale, Chef Jeremy Kittelson serves produce from his riverside garden and from Colorado farmers, prepared “the way ingredients talk to us,” he explains. “I have always created relationships with farmers. We’re not doing this as a trend.” 

Several local farms and ranches stock the farmers’ markets, as well as selling directly to restaurants. LaVenture Farms in Gypsum grows root vegetables and greens for Vail’s Larkspur restaurant and Restaurant Avondale, and it sells organic produce online. Eaton Ranch in Edwards raises free-range, hormone-free Angus beef that graces dish!’s menu.

Copper Bar Ranch west of Edwards brings the cycle full circle. In addition to selling produce to Restaurant Avondale, dish!, Kelly Liken, and Larkspur, on July 20 the ranch will host the roving restaurant Outstanding in the Field ( Visiting the valley for its second year, the moveable feast brings eaters as close to the source as possible, inviting them to eat in the fields where their food grows. “We’ve been growing here for thirty years for our family,” says Kerry Donovan of the ranch, her family farm, which sells produce at the Vail Farmers’ Market. “This is our fourth season to sell. You can’t get more organic than we are.”

“You’re under a rock if you aren’t learning about farm-fresh-to-table,” says dish!’s Johansen. “Shame on anybody who is not cooking that way.”  

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