At Anderson Ranch, There's Art In The Kitchen, Too
Since the 1960s, Aspen has been synonymous with skiing, which often eclipses the Roaring Fork Valley’s mining, railroad and ranching roots. In 1910, a sheep and cattle operation known as the Hoagland Ranch was established in what is now Snowmass Village. Some 20 years later, Bill Anderson married into the Hoagland family and renamed the property. The Anderson’s kept the ranch in operation until the mid-1960s, amidst a burgeoning ski resort.
In 1966, renowned ceramist Paul Soldner was tapped by Snowmass developers to construct a non-profit visual arts center in the community. Soldner was enchanted by the Anderson Ranch property, and aided by photographer Cherie Hiser, clay sculptor Peter Voulkos, woodworker Sam Maloof and other contemporaries, the Anderson Ranch Art Center was born.
Fifty years later, Soldner’s vision has exceeded all expectations, with Anderson Ranch attracting visiting artists and students from all over the world. The five-acre facility boasts cutting-edge technology, one of the largest ceramic kilns on the continent, and is a cultural community hub that offers lectures, youth programs, internships, residencies, workshops, special events, exhibitions and art auctions.
A little-known aspect of Anderson Ranch is that its Kent Campus Center Café—which feeds staff and artists—is open to the public on weekdays from noon to 1pm, June through September. The cost is $15 for an all-you-can-eat meal; all proceeds are used to fund art center programming and operation costs. Just as compelling: the food rivals that of most restaurants in the region, and the café serves the dual purpose of supporting local growers and connecting guests with the Aspen area’s artist population. Explains Anderson Ranch marketing and communications director Jennifer Slaughter, “We’re a community here, but we also create community. The table acts as a liaison.”
Café co-managers Geri Maeshiro and Kendra Lizotte—like the rest of their kitchen staff—are artists. Both women initially came to Anderson Ranch in 2009 for internships (ceramics and print/paint, respectively), but found the programs were full. They were offered jobs in the café despite neither of them having cooked professionally, but it soon became clear their artistic aptitudes extended to the kitchen.
For the last three years, Maeshiro and Lizotte have run the café aided by seasonal staff, devising daily lunch and dinner menus inspired by the produce they source year-round from regional farms like Eagle Springs Organic, Delicious Orchards, Rendezvous Farm, Aspen T.R.E.E., and via local distributors Farm Runners and farmer Jack Reed.
“Our sourcing is the biggest change that’s come about since Kendra and I took over,” says Maeshiro, 33. “Our parents grew up on canned food, but our generation made the switch to fresh ingredients. It’s a huge priority for us to support local growers. Our next goal is to start working with designated local ranchers for meat sourcing, and find a way to purchase whole animals—we don’t have the space here to do butchery, so the logistics are a work in progress. We’re lucky to have a supportive non-profit behind us.”
A native of Oahu, Maeshiro learned to cook while volunteering for Food Not Bombs in the Bay Area (“growing up, my mom was like, ‘Get out of the kitchen!’” she laughs). Lizotte, 31, is from Aspen and credits her mother with being “an amazing cook,” which exposed her to good food. After her initial stint in the Anderson Ranch kitchen, Lizotte took a six-month vocational course in San Francisco and interned at “America’s Test Kitchen.”
The meals at the café are homey and nourishing in both the literal and figurative sense. On the day I sat down to talk with Maeshiro and Lizotte, lunch consisted of a light, herb-flecked tomato soup, kale and pecan salad, and a truly excellent Croque Monsieur served on thick slices of country-style bread. There’s also a salad bar, and the daily cookie offering is legendary amongst staff and artists, who often slip away from studios and offices for a sweet pick-me-up.
The 150-seat dining space is equally appealing; in addition to an airy, high-ceiled dining room, there’s a sizeable patio situated beside Brush Creek. It’s a bucolic setting that’s on par with any restaurant in the valley, although developing menus for such a diverse on-site community has its challenges.
“We’re trying to please everyone,” explains Lizotte. “We offer a macrobiotic kind of style, and our goal is to fuel our artists in their work and art, as well as their bodies. I think that’s the real beauty of food.”
Don’t miss Anderson Ranch’s 50th Anniversary Annual Art Auction & Community Picnic on August 6, from 11am to 3pm. The event will feature over 200 works of art by top contemporary artists available for bid in live and silent auctions, as well as live music, children’s art activities and a picnic lunch. For more information, visit AndersonRanch.org.