There is a smoked sturgeon salad served with crème fraîche, chives and egg mimosa. An asparagus salad dotted with ricotta produced at a small farm in rural Colorado. And a lamb saddle, also from Colorado, done with gnocchi, baby artichokes and pine nut gremolata.
Alex Seidel, the award-winning chef from Denver and the man behind the intimate restaurant Fruition, has brought his A-game to the Chef’s Club at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen, an ambitious new project from the editors at Food & Wine that aims to bring together some of America’s top rising stars to one physical restaurant. Seidel is joined by George Mendes of Aldea in New York, James Lewis of Bettola in Birmingham, Alabama and Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s in New Orleans in this effort to create a sort of farm team system for the country’s up-and-comers. The organizers hope to expand it in the future.
To enter the club, each chef (selected by Food & Wine) must bring 3-4 dishes to the menu and agree to cook a minimum of two weeks during their six-month stint. Seidel tells us about the challenges he faced in launching this unusual venture.
It’s great when you are in the kitchen cooking, but it must be tough having someone else cook your food every night?
The concept itself is really cool, but the biggest challenge is that you can give anybody a recipe, but are they going to execute it the way the chef wants? They can follow it to the “T” but it’s not always going to come out with the same finesse and same heart and soul.
So what do you do?
It has been a major challenge over the last month. The first time I was up here I was testing all the recipes, making sure that it was to the gram and everything was figured out perfectly. The second time I came they had a lot of things cooked and prepped but there wasn’t one dish that was executed properly.
Did you have a minor freakout?
It was to be expected. I don’t think it was a surprise. When I came down on Tuesday [of the opening weekend] it was the same thing. That’s when I was starting to second-guess can we pull this off?
Have you ever had a project at a hotel like this?
Culturally, it must be a little different than your restaurant in Denver?
The first day I walk in it was like “where are the shallots and garlic?” “Oh, they’re in the walk-in.” I walk into the walk-in and there’s a bag of already peeled shallots and they’re half rotten. So we really had to fight towards changing that culture here. James [Lewis] and I have spent the most time here and something he and I are working towards is using local products and really figuring out the purveyors that they are using and see if we can source some different products.
It’s unique for a publication like Food and Wine to do a restaurant like this.
The idea from ownership is that they want this to be a worldwide brand. [Ownership] has brought a lot of support in here. Two or three weeks ago when I was here we were doing the first food tastings and [the owners] stopped by and brought a Michelin two-star chef to come in and just taste the food. This Michelin two-star chef obviously had a lot of opinions about the food, and rightfully so. There was a lot of question as to whether we were ready.
What changed that? What answered that question? Because, you are very much open now…
The ownership was like “what do you need?” and “let’s just get the best possible ingredients.” And after having more meetings with the kitchen staffs themselves, I could see a difference throughout the weekend.
But overall this is a pretty cool thing, no?
I think it’s a great concept. It’s an opportunity to help develop the young talent in America. There was a period when Daniel Boulud was the best new chef. Then Thomas Keller. Continuing to develop the talent Food and Wine is seeking out through this restaurant is special. I’ll always remember the first day when I was honored in New York as a Best New Chef. It’s like you’re part of the family, and you always will be. I really took that to heart and they asked me to do a project like this and it’s not about getting paid. It’s about being a part of something that’s never been done before.
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