You can’t have great food without great farmers, which seems obvious, but Americans have only discovered this fact of culinary life in the last twenty years. Telluride has benefitted directly from it only since 2003, when the Telluride Farmers Market started. This year, our local Farmer’s Market is better than ever, with increasingly more variety for sale, testimony not only to the growth of this market but of agriculture on the Western Slope. We are, thankfully, not excluded from America’s great culinary awakening.
It follows that the best local chefs and restaurateurs are shopping at the market, none more inventively than Jake Linzinmeir of the Excelsior/Blue Point/Xcafe (formerly Chair 8) empire. Now at the Blue Point on Sunday evenings, Linzinmeir is serving up “Sunday Supper,” comprised of items entirely (or almost entirely) provisioned from the market that takes over the very street on which the Blue Point sits, on Fridays.
There’s no carbon footprint when food is acquired on So. Oak Street and carried to the Blue Point kitchen. The food itself was grown and raised within a few hundred miles of Telluride, and is almost entirely pesticide- and herbicide-free, two more arguments for environmental soundness, plus buying food from the market supports local agriculture. So you are entitled to feel virtuous eating Sunday Supper at the Blue Point, but that’s probably not the main reason that farmers markets and restaurants that buy food from farmers markets or directly from non-agribusiness farms are flourishing all over America. The main reason, of course, is that it just tastes so good.
This is especially true when the food is put in the hands of talented chefs. Linzinmeir has given the green light to the Blue Point’s Chris Wolven and Steve Kosanovich, who forage for the food on Friday that they then prepare on Sunday. (Notably, the Sunday Supper concept coincides with a general reworking of the Blue Point, which now boasts a bar upstairs and a new menu.) Being a restaurant concept man, Linzinmeir has conceived of the Blue Point Sunday Supper as a communal affair. You make your reservation (728-8862) and then join others who have done likewise at a long table. It’s a prix fixe menu ($40 per person), and you eat exactly what the man or woman sitting next to you is eating, although at least as the concept gets underway the food is plated in the kitchen, and not served in bowls and platters that are passed, so that the chefs can control the presentation. Though “communal” with an emphasis on the farm, Sunday Supper at the Blue Point is a fine dining rather than a country kitchen experience. Wine pairings are available, too.
Their first Sunday out, the last Sunday in June following one of the first Fridays that the Telluride Farmers Market was in full swing, chefs Wolven and Kosanovich started us out with an intensely garlicky Buckhorn Gardens spinach, arugula and beet salad, garnished with James Ranch grating cheese. Simple as it was, you can’t argue with any of that to start a summery feast.
Our second course was more elaborate: housemade agnolotti both filled and dressed with a puree of Zephyros Farms snap peas and dressed with a soubise, or onion sauce, of Walla Walla onions. The moon-shaped agnolotti, Linzinmeir explained, is known as “poor man’s ravioli” – the dough rolled out and folded over in a way that produces no waste, a skill he learned while apprenticing in Italy – and is something of an Excelsior/Blue Point specialty. In this variation, the mellow sweetness of the pea puree was shown off to great advantage.
The main course that night consisted of a Kinikin Heights heritage roast chicken, its skin broiled to an irresistible crispiness, its jus sweetened with a little honey, resting in a pool of parsley oil. Kinikin Heights outside Montrose is one of the local farms reintroducing American palates to meats that are free-range and grass-fed, lower in fat and higher in flavor than what we’ve grown accustomed to. In many cases, they are “heirloom” varieties, too, or one of the hundreds of species of livestock (or tomato or apple or peach) once raised on American farms, but now nearly made extinct in the era of agribusiness and homogenization. Thank the culinary gods that these nearly lost foods are being rescued by farmers like Jeff Downs, the Ridgway native who owns Kinikin Heights and personally sells his poultry, beef, lamb and pork on Fridays on Oak St.!
I cooked a Kinikin Heights chicken the same week I ate one at the Blue Point, and it was instructive. Mine was delicious for a home-cooked bird, roasted pressed “under a brick” (actually a heavy cast-iron pan) with rosemary and garlic and lemon juice and served with risotto. Theirs was worthy of a fine dining establishment, served with kale, oyster mushrooms and roasted potatoes – all of which was purchased in central Telluride from regional producers.
You sometimes feel as if some dormant, vestigial memory of how food is supposed to taste is being jolted awake when you eat food from the market, an antidote to a childhood of McNuggets and Kentucky Fried, whose flavor comes almost entirely from salty breading.
I was in Rwanda earlier this summer and the chicken there was almost certainly range-free, fed on bugs and of an heirloom variety, but it was tough. Same with the lamb, pork and beef. These African meats had strong flavors but were sinewy and you had to gnaw through them. America’s new artisanal farmers and ambitious chefs have learned how to deliver a full measure of that natural flavor and pamper us with the tenderness we’ve grown up on by raising their animals on lush alfalfa and hay. A new food paradigm is being born: Are we spoiled or what?
Sunday Supper at the Blue Point should never be the same twice. The chefs’ trick is not to achieve absolute consistency – ordinarily a restaurant virtue – in what they turn out, but rather to respond creatively and skillfully to the most interesting ingredients they are able to find at the market the previous Friday. To judge from their debut Sunday night performance, Wolven and Kosanovich won’t stint on ingredients or imagination in what they put before you.
Ever the innovative restaurateur, Linzinmeir shared a compelling vision with those of us at that first Sunday Supper communal table: a new Telluride event, a “harvest festival” in the fall, when the Telluride Farmer’s Market reaches its peak. Maybe the Telluride Wine Festival could even be rescheduled for the fall and….
“Imagine a table running down the length of Oak St.,” Jake proposed, with Telluride’s best cooks and guest chefs serving all this great locally produced food, paired with wines….
Book me a seat.