Kandee DeGraw: Aaron how did you get involved with the Farmers Market event this Friday?
Aaron Woo: M'lissa Story asked me to participate. Every Friday I see her at the Farmer's Market and we chat about what is going on while I am looking for things for the restaurant.
KD: You shop for Cosmo?
AW: I do; on Fridays I shop and usually buy some things, but I definitely don't get everything from the Farmers Market for the restaurant. The Farmers Market supplements the restaurant's menu.
KD: What do you think of the market?
AW: I think the market has come a long way from what we had last year. It is definitely starting to come of age. I think that it still has a lot farther to go. Particularly being from San Francisco, I am used to some pretty extensive farmers markets, but it is coming along. It seems like the farmers definitely are willing and seem pretty happy about how things went this summer. For me, as a chef it is very inspiring to see the evolution.
KD: Is that why you are part of the fundraiser?
AW: Well, yes. I definitely want to participate and help it evolve as much as possible. With Telluride there is such a limited amount of restaurants and chefs that I think everyone needs to do their part to help it along, if you believe in it. At Cosmo good produce and locally grown organic foods are really important to us.
KD: What will you be doing for the benefit?
AW: I am doing a few dishes. I am doing braised leg of lamb, a Mediterranean flavored tomato salad, an Asian potato salad and we are also doing a baked dessert.
KD: Why did you choose those dishes?
AW: M'lissa got a list of the ingredients that the farmers were going to provide and we had a meeting. Jim Ackard, Jake Linzinmier and M'lissa and I sat down and looked over the list and we all just picked out the things that we wanted to do or things that jumped off and inspired us. I think that is pretty much how some of the chefs use the market. I see some of the chefs at the market on Fridays and I think we build our specials that way. We walk up and down the aisle and look and see what everyone has and we kind of just make up things in our head as we go. We just sat around a table and picked out things we thought we would do.
KD: What is your background?
AW: I grew up in the Bay area. I started cooking there after college. I started cooking really just so I could pay the bills, have days off and eat a meal every day. It turned into a business that I saw was a respectable profession. I love it and I have four uncles who were all cooks and my dad is butcher so it is natural for all the men in my family to be in the kitchen for holidays and such. I decided to go to chef's school in San Francisco and cooked there for about seven years before I came to Telluride.
KD: What type of food do you prefer?
AW: My favorite flavors are French-inspired food, things of the Southern French area, Italy and the Mediterranean. Growing up in the Bay area, a lot of the food is inspired by the Mediterranean, because the climate is similar, the availability of foods is similar and for the most part it is very simple food, just well done. Growing up on the West Coast you have access to a lot of those things. You can rely on a lot of locally grown produce and farms to provide you with things you can't get everywhere else in the country. That is one of things about the Farmers Market and the Slow Food movement that is not new, just a different name, a branded name, but the philosophy is the same in a lot of the West Coast cities, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle.
KD: What is the Slow Food Movement?
AW: Well the philosophy is to preserve resources and to use the things that are local to you. Europe is a classic example and that is where it started. You use the local foods, you develop your menus, your dishes and your specialty items according to what is grown locally and you take care of the land. You don't rape it and let it go and then just move and do something somewhere else, you keep the holistic environment intact. Everyone is reliant on each other, so when you keep that circle going the sustainability continues. I think that is the philosophy behind it in a general sense.
KD: What does the name mean?
AW: Slow Food refers to slowing your pace down, getting away from the fast paced culture that we have evolved into. The terminology breaks down to, taking your time, whether that is choosing your food, choosing your dishes, to take care with it. It is a quality vs. quality issue. Simple sometimes, complex sometimes, but really taking the care to not mass produce things. And that translates to the table, when you present it to people they should relax, have a few courses. We see a lot of people eating while they are walking down the sidewalk, you don't see a lot of that in Europe. The Slow Food movement really tries to get people back to the roots of slowing down, eating properly and enjoying things. Enjoying the flavors, enjoying the organic ingredients that are local to you and really becoming grounded with your surroundings.
KD: Is that a Cosmo philosophy as well?
AW: The Cosmo does support that in a general sense. The tough thing about Telluride is that because of our location we cannot be 100 percent in that slow food type of philosophy. So I think the Farmer's market is a good supplement to what we do here at the Cosmo. We search out antibiotic-free and hormone-free ingredients and products and we try to do the best that we can given our circumstances, but the realistic point of this is, this is a business and we do what we can. If we went 100 percent Farmers Market or local it would probably put us out of business. It is pretty expensive and the availability is pretty limited here, but by using conventional foods, it allows us to support the Farmers Market and the local farmers and we use as much as we can, but it is a marriage between the two really. Cosmo is a surviving business and we do pretty well at that balance.
KD: How did you get to the Cosmo?
AW: I came to the Cosmo because it is one of the strongest restaurants here in Telluride. It has evolved into the locals' place and has good year round business, the location is great. [Cosmopolitan restaurant owner] Chad Scothorn has been here for a long time and he has a lot of experience both as a chef and a restaurateur. That is something I was seeking out, I was seeking somebody I could go to and learn a great deal from in a lot of different areas and that appeals to me as a chef, because I can run a better business if I have a good mentor. Chad has allowed me to really open my eyes to the broader perspective of the restaurant. The Mountain Village is great place and I think it is evolving and it has come along way in the last five years, but the town is the central metropolis of the Telluride area and the Cosmo is one the busiest restaurants around. People like it, it is consistent and those are things that I value.
KD: How did you get to Telluride?
AW: I came to Telluride about seven or eight years ago for a visit, just happened to come through here. For about five years after that I came here once a year for a road trip or vacation just to see, "God was that memory really true?" This is really a pretty special place. It is really magical. Every year I came back and I was still cooking in San Francisco and thought that this was a place I could move to someday. I lived in Colorado prior a few times, so I've lived on the coast and in the mountains. San Francisco is a really difficult place to make a living, it is expensive and the cost of living is high. It is a tough place to start a family for young couples. My wife and I wanted to start a family someday, so we got our city experience, a lot of really good professional experience and then moved to Telluride to try to slow down.
KD: What does your wife do?
AW: Right now she is a bookkeeper and she does a lot of different administrative things. In San Francisco she helped to run a renewable energy company called Green Mountain Energy. They basically brokered solar, hydro, wind, natural gas and in the era of deregulation it can be a big market.
KD: I have always wanted to ask, why do chefs always wear clogs?
AW: Well (laughs) I think it comes down to the fact that we spend a lot of hours on our feet and although running shoes and other shoes can be very comfortable you are on your feet and you need support. Clogs don't typically wear out as fast. They are easy to slip on and off, the other thing is they elevate you up off the ground, so if there is standing water or other things like that. But is really so you can stand for 12 to 15 hours at a time.
KD: What else should people know about the fundraiser on Friday?
AW: I think every one should come out and support the Farmers Market, especially given how much it has come from last year. It is making huge strides; this would definitely be making a huge stride for next year. A lot of the proceeds will go to setting it up for next year. Really getting the word out and aside from that, produce is at its peak now and we have got a few local chefs who are taking the time to do it and it is some really inspired food, which is a good thing. This will be a slowed down, good time and I think everyone should come out and support it.
The Telluride Farmers Market Harvest Dinner will take place Friday, Sept. 25, at Wildflour. Tickets are $30 in advance from 728-8701 or $35 at the door. Along with Aaron Woo, Jim Ackard of Harmon's and Jake Linzinmier will be cooking.