I can’t tell you how excited I was when Foodbuzz asked me to represent them at the Taste of the Nation fundraising event in Vail to support Share Our Strength. SOS is the parent organization to Operation Frontline, the organization I volunteer with as a Chef Educator, teaching nutrition and cooking on a budget to various social services organizations serving low income households. I’ve just completed my seventh six-week class with them this year and am signed up for at least two more this fall – and I love every minute of my work with them!
Taste of the Nation is a national fundraiser for SOS, with events held in cities all around the country. The Denver event was held earlier this year, but if you’re in another city, you might just be able to find one near you still to be held this year. The Vail dinner was held at the Westin Riverfront Hotel & Spa in Beaver Creek – and you can see from the views out of my hotel window, they couldn’t have picked a more serene location. The evening started with cocktails and appetizers on the patio just as the sun was setting behind the mountains with a nice band playing…lovely!
Taste of the Nation events spotlight some of the best and the brightest chefs within a given area, and the Vail Valley, fortunately, is home to many. Each chef created an appetizer as well as an entree or dessert course. First up was Kelly Liken of Kelly Liken & Rick and Kelly’s American Bistro with this Heirloom Tomato Ceviche in a Parmesan Filo Cup. A perfect morsel to whet the appetite at the beginning of the evening.
Paul Ferzacca of La Tour Restaurant & Bar in Vail presented this Organic Sugar Snap Pea with Cold Country Ham Consomme on Rye Toast with Whole grain Mustard Butter. I know it looks a tad bit weird, but it was really a tasty little bite of goodness.
I didn’t have a chance to really dig into the Vichyssoise with Larkspur House Cured Smoked Salmon, offered by Armando Navarro of Larkspur Restaurant, but the couple of sips I did have convinced me I could have eaten a bowl of this and called it an evening!
Sometimes the simplest bites of food are the most comforting. Jeremy Kittelson of Avondale Restaurant (inside the Westin) presented this wonderful Tomato and Basil Chicken Sausage on a skewer with a tomato, a piece of Parmesan cheese, and a leaf of basil. The menu said it also featured Anson Mills Polenta, but I couldn’t seem to locate that part of the dish! There was a fifth appetizer offered by Kevin Nelson of Terra Bistro – Baked Littleneck Clams with Spicy Olive and Tomato Tapenade and Toasted Pastina Dressing – but I just can’t seem to stomach (or even swallow) clams, so I passed on that. Must have been good though, because I couldn’t even find one around to snap a photo!
We were seated for dinner a little after 7pm and, since I was solo, I somehow ended up at the table with the band, the photographers, and some other 20 and 30 something kids. Although I felt like the grandmother of the group, I enjoyed their conversations, taught them a few things about wine selection and food pairings, and picked up some tips myself. Do you understand that in the whole Twitter world there are leaders and followers? Meaning there are people who tweet all day but don’t necessarily read anyone’s, and there are people who read other people’s tweets all the time but don’t tweet themselves. Do you know that seomoz.org offers a free tool called Trifecta to measure the strength of web pages, blogs and entire domains based on factors inherent to popularity, influence and ranking ability and see your impact compared against others in your industry? Do you care?! But I digress… The first seated course offered by Chef Jeremy was a Sea Scallop Ceviche with Melon, Avocado and Cilantro. I don’t like either scallops or melon, but I LOVED this dish! The chef explained that by “sous-viding” (is that a verb?) the melon with a honey lime vinaigrette that it totally changes the texture of it. I’m sold! I don’t think anything goes better with ceviche than a sauvignon blanc wine, and fortunately we were served Kenwood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the scallops.
Next up was Chef Kelly’s Pan Seared Colorado Striped Bass with Roasted Colorado Beets and a Shaved Fennel Salad, topped with Fresh Dill and a golden Beet Vinaigrette. The sommelier paired this with Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay (organically grown, they pointed out) and I found this to be one of the few chardonnays that I liked. Paired with the fish? Heaven on a plate.
By the time the third course arrived, the sun had fully set outside and someone decided to dim the lights inside, so I apologize for the quality of my photos from this point on! That treat you see above is Honey-Glazed Roasted Quail over Olathe White corn and Wild Chanterelle Mushrooms, presented by Chef Paul. Thank goodness for Olathe sweet corn – otherwise I’d be considering a move closer to New Jersey. One of my favorite pinot noirs was served with the quail, Van Duzer Homestead Block Pinot Noir. That thing above the quail is a wild rice tuille – simple, but the crunch was a nice offset to the creaminess of the corn.
For the final entree, Chef Armando served up a Duo of Dry Aged Black Angus Beef – Bacon Wrapped NY Strip and Braised Short Rib on some Creamy Potatoes with Peas, Heirloom Carrots and a Bordelaise Sauce. Beef – if that’s what’s for dinner, then it seems a cabernet is what’s served with it. In this case, Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It went well with the beef, but personally I could have stuck with the Pinot Noir.
I must confess that by this point, although all of the portions were small and the wines were just a tasting size pour, I was running out of room. But put down some fresh Colorado peaches and a glass of anything sparkling in front of me, and I can rally! Chef Kevin’s Colorado Peach Spring Roll Tempura with Honey-Ginger Ice Cream and Melted Sesame Candy paired beautifully with the off dry palate of Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wine. The addition of basil inside the spring roll was a welcome surprise and made me think of making basil ice cream, since I’ve already tackled rosemary and tarragon ice cream this summer. Stay tuned for that… I cannot emphasize enough that $100 is a bargain for an event that features five fabulous appetizers and five mouthwatering courses created by five talented chefs, all paired with wines. Did I mention each chef personally appeared at the front of the dining room to present his dish and explain exactly how he/she made it? And of course, the most important thing is these dinners are helping to make Share Our Strength’s goal of “No Kid Hungry” a reality by 2015. Find a dinner near you and join in the fun!