If the first cold weeks of the new year are an indication of things to come, 2004 could be the year when Colorado Springs diners turn their attention to locally grown foods.
On Jan. 6, more than 60 food lovers gathered at Sencha for the year's first Slow Food dinner, organized by the local convivium (a fancy word for "group"), and prepared by Springs chef Brent Beavers and Pueblo chefs Richard Warner and Mary Oreskovich of Steel City Diner. Next week, the Colorado Branch for Holistic Management, as part of their annual meeting, will host a Friday night banquet of local foods prepared by six of the area's top chefs, including Beavers and Oreskovich.
The event, "Colorado Cornucopia," is designed to "celebrate local growers and their customers." Ranchers and farmers will rub elbows with local foodies and chefs while all digest the message of keynote speaker Jo Robinson, best-selling author, advocate of natural foods marketplaces and critic of the industrial food system (for more on Robinson, visit www.eatwild.com).
What all this means is that Colorado Springs is developing a committed group of consumers, cooks and producers who want their food grown locally, if possible, using methods that honor the lives of customers, producers and livestock alike, and that respect Colorado's natural resources.
Given the recent mad cow scare from Canada and bacterial poisoning from green onions transported from Mexico, eating locally is becoming intuitively smart and prudent. For many, it's a matter of supporting local businesses and humane, environmentally conscious agriculture.
For some of us, it means we're enjoying some of the most interesting food we've tasted in many years.
Take, for example, the Slow Food dinner where we were served a salad of organic greens with Fuyu persimmon (very sweet and ripe, not the mouth-puckering stereotype), accented with mango pure (organic, from California), spiced pepitas and tarragon vinaigrette. The course that followed was a tarte tatin made with creamy butternut squash, seasoned with rosemary and ginger. Both were refreshing and fragrant, but barely prepared us for what was to come.
Strozzi Preti ("Strangle the Priest") pasta was a dense noodle served with rabbit meatballs, tomato sauce and a sweet nutmeg bchamel sauce. Chef Beavers accented the course with a short discourse on the religious and cultural taboos that forbid eating rabbit, followed by an Asian fable honoring the sacrificial rabbit.
Our main course was pomegranate glazed skirt steak from Larga Vista Ranch (near Pueblo), served over pured Colorado Yukon Gold potatoes. Chef Warner got the potato recipe from his friend Joel Robuchon, a New York chef, and while we sighed over the combination of bitter pomegranate seeds, tender beef and creamy potatoes, he offered only one secret to the recipe. "I used 20 pounds of potatoes," he said, and then added with a sly smile, "and 5 pounds of butter."
Dessert was still to come. Chef Oreskovich first served individual blue cornmeal angel food cakes, mounted on a puddle of lavender custard and drizzled with honey lavender sauce. The crowd was groaning by now, so full and our mouths so sweet we could have happily curled up on the floor for a post-dinner nap. But the final dessert woke up our mouths and sent us home refreshed -- Chef Mary's Mignardise, bittersweet chocolate truffles, dusted with cocoa and flavored with habanero peppers.
The "Colorado Cornucopia" dinner is shaping up interestingly as well. A preliminary menu, cooked up by Beavers; Oreskovich; Chip Johnson of the Briarhurst Manor; James Africano of The Warehouse; Chris Adrian, formerly of 32 Bleu; Pete Moreno of La Petite Maison; and Dale Austin of the LeBaron, offers the following: Buffalo Tongue Soup; a course of local artisan cheeses and breads; a grass-fed beef dish with Colorado fingerling potatoes and beets; a salad of shoots, greens and sprouts; a heritage turkey dish served with squash polenta; a bean dish using black and anasazi beans; and a dessert pastry made with Colorado apples.
Robinson will talk about the income opportunities for ranchers and farmers in a local, natural foods market. Her latest book, Pasture Perfect, looks at grass-fed and pastured beef and poultry, and examines the latest research into the health benefits to consumers.
On Saturday, Feb. 7, the Colorado Branch for Holistic Management will hold a full day of workshops and conferences on local agriculture, raising and marketing grass-fed meats, holistic dairy farming, and healthy ranch practices around the world. The public is welcome to attend any of these events. A complete schedule and registration information is available online at www.colorado holisticmanagement.org.
Colorado's Cornucopia: A Celebration of Local Growers and Their Customers
A banquet of locally grown foods hosted by the Colorado Branch for Holistic Management, with keynote speaker Jo Robinson
Social hour begins at 5 p.m.; dinner, 6-9 p.m. featuring dishes from six local chefs
LeBaron Hotel (formerly Red Lion), 314 West Bijou St.
For dinner reservations, or to learn more about the Holistic Management meeting on Saturday, Feb. 7, go to www.colorado holisticmanagement.org or call Chris Frasier at 719/771-0139.
For more on local Slow Food events, contact Melinda Murphy at mmurphy@csfinearts center.org.