December 22, 2006

Chefs in search of a Colorado cuisine convene

On Dec. 4, a group of Colorado farmers, ranchers, vintners, spirit and cheese makers, bakers and chefs, including chef Florian Wehrli of Windsor’s Chimney Park Bistro, gathered in Boulder to discuss building market connections between the state’s producers and restaurateurs. Those links are good for the local economy, good for chefs looking for fresh ingredients and certainly good for diners.

In Colorado, said diners will spend $20.7 million per day on food away from home, and Colorado restaurants will serve more than two million meals each day to earn it. Impressive.

The meeting was convened by the Chefs Collaborative, an organization that works with chefs and the greater food community to “celebrate local foods and foster a more sustainable food supply.”

“There are not a lot of chefs around who will look at what’s available here,´ said chef Stephen Kleinman of the culinary arts program at the Art Institute of Denver. “But there are at least 20 different local items, from game to peaches, that can be part of a menu.”

Chef Wehrli not only seeks out local ingredients, he gives them credit on his menu, as in Seared Spomer Ranch Bison Carpaccio made from bison that comes from David Hayes’ Spomer Ranch in Milliken. Wehrli also features wine from some of the 65 Colorado wineries.

“Not many people know that Colorado not only produces a lot of wine but also that we have two vodka producers, a maker of fruit brandy and Colorado whiskey distiller,´ said Sylvia Tawse of The Fresh Ideas Group.

Aside from encouraging chefs to shop the farmers’ markets – although some need no encouragement, like Hugo Matheson of The Kitchen in Boulder, who estimates he spends $15,000 per week gathering seasonal ingredients – the upshot of all this talk is that somewhere out there a Colorado cuisine is glimmering. Chefs who see that light understand that locally grown organic crops, game meats and natural beef can be transformed into something interesting and fine.

Kleinman saw the idea for a local cuisine form in the wine country of California a couple of decades ago. He thinks it can happen here, too.

Transporting sweets across state lines

Andrea Kennedy is not interested in involving one more government agency (requiring one more permit) in her business, American Country Candies. As a result, out-of-state retailers who want her peanut brittle and ribbon candy have to come to her northeast Fort Collins factory and get it. And they do, from Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana.

“A retailer from Kansas drives seven hours to the Kansas-Colorado border where we meet him,” Kennedy said. “We drive for three hours to save him some time.”

It was her sister Donna Neumeyer who got Kennedy and her family into the candy business back in 1977 when Neumeyer bought the Sugar Shack on College Avenue in Fort Collins, where Mary’s Mountain Cookies now cooks up sweet things.

“She bought her peanut brittle from an elderly Greek man from Loveland,” Kennedy said, “and one day he came in and asked her if she wanted to buy the business. She didn’t, but we did. We kept the name Tony’s Sweetheart Candy until he passed away.”

Kennedy pointed out that the making of ribbon candy by hand is a dying art.  She and her candy spinners work in a 100-degree environment for nine hours a day spinning candy in 10 flavors.

“Machines can’t make ribbon candy without a lot of breakage,” Kennedy explained.

“We make our own colors and use oils for flavor,” she added. “We have cinnamon, peppermint, wintergreen, anise, orange, lemon-lime, watermelon, wild cherry, raspberry – and grape when we run out of raspberry.”

Kennedy is looking for a business partner to help her carry on the hand-spinning tradition.

After all, what would the winter season be without a cranberry glass bowl of ribbon candy sitting out in the living room, signaling that the holidays have arrived at last.

In Fort Collins, The Cupboard and Jax Outdoor Gear carry the ribbon candy, while the peanut brittle is available at Jax and The Perennial Gardener.

Stake in the community

Sometimes it is easy to forget that big restaurant chains often have big hearts as well. To make sure that their good community deeds did not go unnoticed, the National Restaurant Association and American Express developed the Restaurant Neighbor Awards.

In 2006, the Outback Steakhouse of Fort Collins was Colorado’s nominee in the Midsize Business category for raising $80,000 in 2005 at its sixth annual “A Bit of a Bash.” Proceeds went directly to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Larimer County summer programs serving low-income children.  

Well done in a rare medium, Steakhouse.

Bingham Hill’s last chapter

As he left town, bound for Michigan, former Bingham Hill Cheese Co. co-owner Tom Johnson handed off the last of his equipment to Peter Kindel, cheese maker for award-winning Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Longmont.

Haystack was recently one of 24 U.S. dairies invited to send cheese to the third Feast of Cheeses in Bra, Italy. Cheese lovers hope such success will encourage more cheese makers to follow the lead of MouCo Cheese Co., another local award winner, and the newest entrant, Bellvue’s Morning Fresh Dairy, into the NoCo artisan cheese biz.

Jane D. Albritton is a contributing writer for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Her monthly column features restaurant and hospitality industry news. She can be contacted at jane@tigerworks.com.

On Dec. 4, a group of Colorado farmers, ranchers, vintners, spirit and cheese makers, bakers and chefs, including chef Florian Wehrli of Windsor’s Chimney Park Bistro, gathered in Boulder to discuss building market connections between the state’s producers and restaurateurs. Those links are good for the local economy, good for chefs looking for fresh ingredients and certainly good for diners.

In Colorado, said diners will spend $20.7 million per day on food away from home, and Colorado restaurants will serve more than two million meals each day to earn it. Impressive.

The meeting was convened by the Chefs Collaborative, an organization that…

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