Local Farm Dinners 2.0: Bikes, Brunch & BBQ
I attended my first farm dinner in 2000, when I was a market vendor in the Bay Area. My employer, Frog Hollow Farm, was an early adopter to the concept, and in my six years working for them, I had the opportunity to organize and attend dinners throughout the region. To this day, farm dinners are one of my greatest joys in life.
Eight years later, I began scheming a move to the Roaring Fork Valley after meeting Brook and Rose LeVan of Carbondale’s Sustainable Settings. It was, unsurprisingly, a farm dinner that sealed the deal. Brook invited me to help slaughter some lambs for the ranch’s annual Harvest Festival (held this year on September 19-20; get your tickets and camping passes here) and asado (an Argentinean-style barbecue in which an animal is butterflied and cooked before an wood fire).
The dinner and festival were a magnificent affair, aided by the help of chefs like Ryan Hardy, formerly of The Little Nell, Mark Fischer, and Chris Keating. More important, it confirmed for me that the Roaring Fork Valley was a hotbed of sustainability and progressive-minded chefs and farmers, and a solid career move.
Now that I actually live here, summer means not just hiking and camping, but getting out to regional farms to enjoy meals sourced on-site and from local product. Last week, I rode my bike from Aspen to Basalt with The Little Nell’s wine director, Carlton McCoy, MS, and assistant food & beverage director Csaba Oveges, and 19 other guests, for one of the hotel’s bike-to-farm dinners.
Now in its second year, the series is a collaboration with Emma Farms Cattle Company. The ranch’s pure Japanese bloodline Wagyu beef is prepared by the Nell’s chefs, and served in the open-air barn at the historic Emma Ranch, owned by founder Tom Waldeck (the company recently transferred ownership, and the main operation is now located on a ranch in Walden, CO). To reserve space for the Aug. 13 and Aug. 27 dinners (the latter held at Rock Bottom Ranch), call Element 47, 970-920-6330.
After a glorious 21-mile ride downvalley on the Rio Grande Trail, we were greeted with Prosecco and passed appetizers like Wagyu tartare before moving to the barn for a sit-down meal featuring succulent smoked Wagyu brisket and salads made with regional ingredients like Olathe corn and Palisade peaches. The dinners kick off with a visit to Nell’s acclaimed wine cellar, where guests select wines (priced separately) with McCoy. The dinners are a brilliant spin on traditional farm dinners, and provide guests with an active adventure that showcases the valley’s ranching heritage. The final two dinners are on August 13 and 27 at Emma Farms and ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch, respectively. The latter is an ACES fundraiser featuring Emma Farms Wagyu and produce, cheese, and beer from the region; tickets available here.
Sustainable Settings has also gotten into the bike-to-farm game. This is the second summer they’ve featured ride-to dinners prepared on-site by local chefs; the next event is August 15, reservations can be made here. There are also community potlucks and ranch lunches being offered, where the public can join the staff at the table. Click here for reservations and dates.
Rock Bottom Ranch hosts its own farm-to-table series, with brunches and dinners prepared by chef/farm director Jason Smith. Held in the ranch’s open-air pole barn, the events include wine and spirits from local producers who are often in attendance. Rock Bottom is located off the Rio Grande Trail, so it’s easy to bike to these events and make a day of it (as well as conserve fossil fuels). The next events are on August 14 and 16; click here for reservations.
In Paonia, Zephyros Farm and Garden has been hosting farm dinners for over 12 years. Owners Don Lareau and Daphne Yannakakis host an epic feast on the farm every summer; this year it’s on July 29th and is collaboration with Outstanding in the Field. Executive chef Mark Fischer of town, Phat Thai, The Pullman, and Harman’s Eat & Drink will be cooking, along with his chefs de cuisine from each restaurant. Don’t miss out on this event, which draws guests from all over the state.
For another taste of local farms, breweries, distilleries, and craft foods, head to Elk Camp Snowmass for Farm to Table Tuesdays through August. Meet the producers, and enjoy live music, outdoor activities, and la carte items like Rock Bottom Ranch pork chops with Palisade peach-rosemary salsa, Crystal River Meat burgers, and seasonal produce.
Summer may be brief here in the mountains, but with farm dinners increasingly becoming collaborative affairs that integrate seasonal outdoor pursuits, you can have your local, sustainable cake and eat it, too.
Vanilla-Roasted Peaches with Raspberries
I developed this recipe when I worked for Frog Hollow Farm. It features my favorite summer ingredients, and is emblematic of the simplicity and rustic nature of farm dinners. I also love to do a variation with grilled peaches; just halve, pit, and lightly brush the cut sides with olive oil, first.
- 1 cup. sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- pinch of salt
- 8 small ripe peaches, halved and pitted
- Vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream for serving
- 1 pint raspberries
- Chopped pistachios, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400°. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with the water, vanilla bean and scrapings, cinnamon stick, and salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves.
Pour the syrup into a large baking dish. Arrange the peaches in the syrup, cut side up, and bake for 30 minutes, basting frequently. Spoon the peaches and syrup into bowls and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream; garnish with raspberries and pistachios.