Or, for that matter, the “ado”?
Your answer will depend largely, of course, on how you define Colorado cuisine—on the relative importance you assign to ingredient sources v. technical styles v. demographic & cultural influences, etc. How would a Moroccan tagine made with locally raised lamb, say, compare to green chile containing peppers from Hatch rather than Pueblo? Or perhaps a Denver steak (you know there was such a thing, right?) cut from Texas beef v. a New York strip courtesy from Colorado’s finest? Which is more “local”?
For me, it’s like Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart’s legendary claim about pornography: modern Colorado cookery is hard to define, but I know it when I see it. And while I don’t see it in the output of every chef who’s made a personal mission to source from his/her neighbors—that’s not a complaint in the least, just a stylistic fact—I sure as hell saw it, perhaps more than I have to date, in the exceptional 4-course meal Black Cat Bistro’s Eric Skokan & Daniel Asher of Root Down & Linger prepared for the Governor’s Residence Dinner that kicked off the Drink Local Wine conference last Friday.
Pressed to pinpoint the secret of its success, I’d say it wasn’t the wealth of homegrown ingredients, or the level of innovation, or even the extent to which the food genuinely complemented the wine (& vice-versa); rather it was the easy confidence—& obvious joy—with which Skokan & Asher brought all these elements into play.
To accompany Bookcliff Vineyards’ Dry Muscat Blanc 2010 & Cottonwood Cellars’ intriguing Lemberger 2008—a German grape that may prove to have some legs around here—the duo offered up 2 passed apps: cider-&-beer-braised goat tacos on Raquelita’s tortillas with red sauerkraut from Five Points Fermentation Co. (about which I’ve been hearing many good things of late) & Ugly Goat feta—whew—as well as pungent tartlets topped with sauteed dandelion greens & Windsor Dairy’s Gruyère-like Glendevey. Way to go all Colorado on our buttocks!
The 1st sit-down course featured 2009 Chardonnay from Settembre Cellars & Creekside Cellars’ blended Rosé 2011 alongside a truly imaginative & snappy salad of bitter foraged greens & watermelon radish in an invigorating clover honey-toasted cumin vinaigrette that I would put on anything, garnished with a scoop of pea-mascarpone gelato that, as it melted, further dressed the foliage.
Wowee. The main course showcased pork from Skokan’s own Black Cat Farm 3 ways—loin, belly & sausage—that was so fleshy & luscious it hardly needed accompaniment by fingerlings & melting smoked cabbage with golden raisins plus just a touch of mustard (but they certainly didn’t hurt). Frankly, I think simplicity’s overrated; all that lip service so many chefs pay to “getting quality ingredients & not fucking them up” goes in 1 of my ears & out the other, since I can hack simple cooking in my own kitchen. I’m a sucker for skill & creativity & transformation, man! All that said, when you’ve got it, flaunt it—& whatever Skokan’s doing for those pigs, feeding them gilded chestnuts or massaging their ears with baby oil or whatever, it’s working. (The dish was paired with a Guy Drew Vineyards Riesling 2010 that didn’t stand much of a chance against the 50/50 blend of Petit Verdot & Cab Franc that was the Anemoi Zephyrus 2010: generous but not slutty; distinctive, with staying power, but not exhaustingly so.)
Of course, giving props to worthy local producers was par for the course all evening, but Skokan & Asher did me a personal solid by prefacing dessert with a platter of Black Star Chocolates: basil-lemon-white chocolate & pomegranate-raspberry-rose. Just beautiful little things—clear of scent, ethereal & complex on the palate.
We finished with cute, not-too-sweet cups of Ovaltine chocolate pudding topped with freeze-dried berries & milk crumble as well as outstanding squares of blood orange-ricotta cheesecake, almost like silky blond fudge. The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey’s Port-style 2010 Merlot, Divinity, had its charms, but if you ask me Whitewater Hill Vineyards is the one to beat when it comes to Colorado dessert wines, and this evening was no different: its Riesling Ice Wine 2011 was surprisingly light & more flowery than honeyed.
Anyway, the candidates for king & queen of Colorado Cuisine are many & varied—the crew at The Kitchen, Potager’s Teri Rippeto, & of course Fruition’s Alex Seidel all come to mind (though I might rule out the latter insofar as his style is so clearly European-influenced). But for their audacity & graciousness in representing, I’d be hard pressed to vote for anyone other than Skokan & Asher right now.