Sometimes keeping it simple can be a beautiful thing.
For example, mathematicians use the word "elegant" when referring to those few formulas that convey fundamental concepts in basic terms. In these cases, such as Maxwell's equations for light or Einstein's for relativity, the elegance is elemental. For those fluent in the language of math, these expressions are like a picture window overlooking purity.
Simplicity in the kitchen can yield similar elegance. The right formula for combining basic elements produces expressions of gastronomic purity. Better still, this kind of elegance is more immediately obvious and more easily appreciated than obscure signs, symbols and coefficients. We don't have to learn how to appreciate the elegance of simple, fresh food -- just eating it teaches us what we already know.
Making time for simple elegance may not always be easy, but it's worth the effort. That's the essential principle behind a recently opened Boulder restaurant called The Kitchen and the group called Slow Food. Founded in 1986 by a feisty Italian who was outraged by the opening of a McDonald's in Rome's Plaza Spagna, Slow Food is now in 43 countries and boasts more than 150 local chapters in the United States alone. As its name and origin suggest, their message is to promote a viable alternative to the economic and environmental devastation caused by the rise of the fast-food industry.
Members work to re-establish the traditional connection between people and farmers. Their approach is simple: Preserve "the food traditions that are part of the cultural identity of this country" by supporting artisans "who grow, produce, market, prepare, and serve wholesome food." Only local produce can fully ripen before picking, which puts fresh and tasty food on your family's table. Preservatives, genetic modifications and hundreds of gallons of gasoline become unnecessary in the process. Does it make a difference?
One trip to Boulder and dinner at The Kitchen will leave you saying "yes" enthusiastically. Opened six months ago, The Kitchen uses as many items as possible from local producers. The names of the farmers, cheese makers and ranchers that supply the food are listed on large chalkboards that serve as the bare space's primary dcor. A clean bar gives way to a deep dining room that flows right into the kitchen itself. Not surprisingly, the restaurant was an ideal fit for Slow Food Boulder's annual harvest banquet: an Aug. 23 sit-down dinner for 70 that highlighted the peak of the summer season.
Serving more than four appetizers, two entrees, four side dishes and two desserts, The Kitchen put on a virtuoso performance of simple culinary elegance. Heirloom tomatoes, green beans, summer squash and mixed greens had all been picked that morning at Hedgerow Farms. Lamb used for the main courses came from Macy Farms, a local, all-natural producer, and cheeses came from Haystack Mountain's goat dairy.
Kimbal Musk and Hugo Matheson, head chefs at The Kitchen, don't do this only on special occasions; they do it every day. In addition to getting farm-fresh meats, cheese and produce, they also work with some independent vendors, like Ingrid, their Maine-based shellfish provider who sends over the morning's finest lobster and mussels by same-day express.
Although there's a set menu for breakfast and a seasonal lunch menu, no one knows what's for dinner until the food arrives each day. Then, Musk, Matheson and their agile staff will fashion about eight appetizers and eight entrees, plus an array of sides and desserts. If you want the full experience, three courses run $33 or you can order a la carte.
Keeping it simple not only eases the stress, but also lets the food's freshness shine through. The chefs raised Hedgerow's summer squash to nearly impossible heights merely by tossing raw round slices with olive oil, lemon juice, feta cheese and fresh mint. In fact, the chefs rarely needed more than six ingredients to pull off dishes such as burrata cheese with heirloom tomatoes and roasted olives; roasted beets with Haystack chvre and walnuts; German butterball potato salad with arugula; and couscous with peas and pickled red onions.
Early on, Matheson told the crowd, seated 20 to a table, that, by staying out of its way, he was hoping "not to screw up the food." He and Musk succeeded on the grand scale, as each plate expressed an elegant homage to its main ingredients. Musk invites customers and their competition to apply the formula. In addition to relying on local food, The Kitchen is 100 percent powered by wind and recycles used oils for bio-diesel. They hope that in time such practices will become standard instead of exceptional.
Ever wonder if one meal can change your whole perspective on food? Take a drive to The Kitchen and find out just how good simplicity can taste. Or stay in town, go to the Farm and Art Market downtown, and create at home with our own local food. Keep the ingredient count low and enjoy the food for what it is: fresh, basic and elegant.
1039 Pearl St., Boulder
Tuesday through Saturday: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Slow Food Lunches
Steel City Diner Featuring Country Roots Farm 121 W. B St., Pueblo Saturday, Sept. 11, 11:30 a.m. Tour the farm at 9:30 a.m. $25
Mi Pueblito 1305 Routt St., Pueblo Sunday, Sept. 26, 1 p.m. After lunch, visit the Pueblo Chile Festival $12 adult, $6 10 and under
For more, call Pat at 684-8193.