For one night of the year, Durango’s talented chefs come together to prepare a once-in-a-lifetime kind of meal.
Or it would be, if it weren’t once in a year here. I have gone to almost all of the Collaborative Chef’s Showcase Dinners; this was the sixth year – and I think this might have been the best year yet. Every single course was delicious and memorable.
Before I get into the yumminess of it all, I have to get into the joyfulness. Everything, 100 percent of the food, the services – even all 21 wait people from seven restaurants who donated their time and hustle – was donated to benefit the Sexual Assault Services Organization.
Mandy Miller Winn of Celebrations spent two days decorating the Henry Strater Theatre with kitchen gadgets, memorabilia and appliances, giving the whole theater a kitchen feel.
Fort Lewis College music students Dawn Turner, Dustin Sargent and Jackson Salamunovich, newly dubbed The Rhapsodies, performed Celtic-style music throughout the evening. While there was a lot of talking going on while they played, at least some of that talk was about how good they were.
On the big screen onstage, guests saw photos from previous years, information about SASO and an ongoing look at all those chefs bustling around in the kitchen plating the courses. (Plus it was a preview of what was coming out. Love that sense of anticipation.) Leah A. Deane, wine specialist for Republic National Distributing Co., and Grand Vin, organized some magical wine pairings to top off an extraordinarily fine meal.
The evening started with passed hors d’oeuvres.
Chef Arnold “Safari” Ngumbao of Strater Catering presented curried vegetable samosas with sun-dried apricot marmalade – you should bottle that marmalade – paired with a Tiamo Organic Prosecco DOC from Valdobbiadene, Italy. Ken’s & Sue’s chef Beau Black created a crispy risotto stuffed with pesto meatballs topped with a balsamic-braised grape tomato and served with a Jaume Serra Cristalino Rosado Cava from Spain. Showcase co-founder Dave Cuntz, who’s now the chef at Carver Brewing Co., presented a pancetta-wrapped fingerling potato with Manchego cheese topped with chipotle aioli and paired with Carver’s Ancho Red Ale (perhaps the most delightful bite of the night).
I got the scoop from chef Charley Curtis of El Moro Spirits & Tavern on the creation of his two hors d’oeuvres. The holiday turkey sausage, made with organic ground turkey, sage stuffing, sweet potatoes and cranberries, topped with roasted pumpkin butter and a wild sage flower, was inspired by a martini and conversation at the American Beer Festival a year ago. (Hey, man does not live by beer alone!)
The idea was to create the taste of the day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich. They had to freeze the dried cranberries with liquid nitrogen to chop them finely enough for the sausage, and the pumpkin butter referenced the beer pairing with Steamworks Spruce Goose Seasonal Ale, which apparently is best served with pumpkin pie.
It was the first time beer has been served at the event, and by all accounts, it was a huge success to bring the art and craft of our microbreweries into the repast.
Curtis’ second hors d’oeuvre was an inspiration on the day of the event, a Reuben egg roll with house-brined and smoked pastrami (a three-week process), beet-infused sauerkraut with caraway seeds and “1001” Island Dressing, a tomato-pickle brine aioli.
While noshing and sipping, guests also did some bidding on a plethora of silent auction items, proving you don’t have to be a chef to believe that people should be physically safe.
A five-course sit-down meal was the centerpiece of the evening. I’ve never seen that many wine glasses at any place setting other than at this dinner. Emily Spencer and Danika Tarkington, the event queens at Strater Catering, were also hopping all evening, and Spencer said it took the Strater’s entire stock of glassware and then some to mount the dinner.
In my never-ending quest to learn something, the next course led to a journey into The New Food Lover’s Companion, to figure out why the first course that was passed was called hors d’oeuvres and the first seated course was called the appetizer. Aren’t they the same thing?
It turns out yes and no. An hors d’oeuvre is a finger food served to whet the appetite, while an appetizer can be that and/or the first course at a seated meal. And this meal had both.
Prepared by chef Rob Blythe at the Mahogany Grille, the appetizer was blackened pork belly chicharrones with a roasted corn coulis and cilantro-lime chimichurri sauce. It was paired with a Vicentin Blanc de Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. (Yep, a white Malbec. It was an evening of revelations.)
Black, who’d also done the risotto ball hors d’oeuvres, created a fall butter lettuce salad served with Avalanche Midnight Blue Goat Cheese from Basalt, candied pecans and a pomegranate vinaigrette that actually had pomegranate seeds in it. Deane said she struggles every year to pair a wine with the salad course because of the acidity of the dressing. In a stroke of genius, this year she chose a sherry, a Bodegas Dios Baco Amontillado D.O. from the heart of sherry country, Jerez, Spain. I’d always had sherry either as an apéritif before a meal or a digestif afterward, but I’m going to remember this sherry with salad combo.
The seafood course, designed by Digs’ chefs Bill Hahn and TJ Walker, was a grilled and oven-finished mahi mahi served over wild rice with wild mushrooms and topped with mango salsa and a divine herbed-white wine sauce, paired with a 2011 Pratsch Zweigelt Neiderosterreich from Austria.
The entrée was a collaboration within a collaboration. Chefs Ryan Lowe from the Ore House and Dave Stewart from Seasons Rotisserie & Grill presented a duck confit served over purées of glazed purple carrots and parsnips, served with a rosemary-garlic-brioche bread pudding and a James Ranch black currant and Châteauneuf-du-Pape reduction. Of course it was served with more Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a 2010 Léon Perdigal “Reserve de Argentiers” AOC from France, one of the finest wines I’ve had the good fortune to taste.
The good news is that all the chefs understood that when you’re serving so many courses, they each need to be small plates. The bad news is that the dessert was so over the top decadent and delicious, everyone left feeling replete. Make that too replete. Chefs Chris Crowl and Angela Heuman from Eolus Bar & Dining prepared a rich chocolate cake topped by an orange crème caramel and pecan toffee crunch, served with a spiced pear and garnished with a hand-tempered chocolate arch. Deane chose a 2012 Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG Piemonte from Italy as the final fruit of the grape of the evening.
First National Bank of Durango served as the major corporate sponsor. Last year, President Mark Daigle said the bank would match five tables donating $500 each to increase the funding from the event for SASO. This year, he said the food was so good, the bank would match seven tables donating $500 each, increasing SASO’s take by $7,000. Nice.
SASO does important work in our community, providing a 24/7 hotline (247-5400), counseling and support groups for survivors of sexual assault, both male and female, as well as education to children and adults about keeping themselves safe and family, friends and professionals who are supporting victims.
Executive Director Maura Doherty Demko made a brief appeal reminding everyone what the evening was truly about – not just food and wine but helping those who have suffered sexual violence and working to prevent it. You may think sexual assault is a rare occurrence here, but more than 320 calls came into the hotline last year.
If you missed this scrumptious repast but want to support SASO and its work, mail contributions to P.O. Box 2723, Durango, CO 81302. Visit www.durangosaso.org to learn more about the organization and its work.
My fellow Scorpions, also represented by the mythical phoenix upon occasion, who are celebrating this week are Cindy Lieberman, Peeb Lupia, Susan Stamets, Tom Hahl, Carol Godlin, Laura Yale, Wes May, Terry Polsfut and Bill Postler.
While it’s still sunny, winter is en route, perhaps arriving as soon as this weekend. And that means Durango Adaptive Sports Association is getting ready for its winter-season volunteer-training sessions.
Held at the Durango Community Recreation Center, 2700 Main Ave., ASA is offering a choice between two identical sessions, one Thursday and one Monday. Returning volunteers attend from 6 to 7 p.m., new volunteers meet from 7 to 8 p.m.
I’ve never seen a more joyful group of volunteers than those who share their love of the outdoors and recreation with people dealing with the challenges of cognitive and physical disabilities. If joy isn’t enough for you, do discounted lift tickets at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort seem enticing?
Get a jump start by visiting www.asadurango.com to fill out the intake form.
It’s an undisputed fact that I’m a big fan of violinist Vadim Gluzman, a frequent Music in the Mountains soloist. Every time he performs here, I’m afraid it might be the last because, quite frankly, he’s a big player on the world stage, and we’re pretty far from the beaten path.
Just how big a player was emphasized recently when Gluzman was one of 30 violinists featured in Jean-Michel Molkhou’s Great Violinists of the Twentieth Century, Volume 2, dedicated to violinists born in the second half of the century, from 1948 to 1985.
Included in a group that also includes Pinchas Zukerman, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang and Anne Sophie Mutter, Gluzman is fêted for “bringing the glorious violinist tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries back to life.”
The author of the book knows whereof he speaks. He has been a music critic for Diapason magazine for 25 years, contributes regularly to the British journal The Strad (as in Stradivarius) and is the co-author of The Violin: the Multimedia Encyclopedia.
The first folks in my calendar who are celebrating anniversaries this month are Donald and Marilyn Baker and Ken and Pat LeRoy.
Here’s how to reach me: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items. Follow me on Twitter @Ann_Neighbors.
I’ll consider photos, but they must be high resolution.