The future of food in Aspen is trashy, but in a good way.
Diners at the Aspen Meadows Resort have been tasting the future since the summer of 2016, though most may be blissfully unaware. And that’s exactly the point, says executive chef Jason ompson, who collaborated with chef-farmer Jason Smith of ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch to host an Imperfect Foods Luncheon during the Aspen Ideas Festival. Together they used pounds of ingredients otherwise destined for the compost bin to serve a buet of colorful, crowd-pleasing dishes: bruised-green apple salad; Colorado striped bass with scrap roots, shoots, stalks and broken-tomato vinaigrette; and stale-croissant bread pudding.
The meal was part feast, part public service announcement: It’s time to stop wasting unattractive-yet-perfectly-good food. At least 30 percent of food is wasted at the consumer level in America, an epidemic earning national dialogue thanks to soapboxing by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, executive producer of Wasted! e Story of Food Waste, a documentary that screened to much fanfare at the 2017 Aspen Filmfest this past fall.
While chefs are mindful of food waste already— tight margins rule every kitchen’s bottom line—the “trash-food” event at the Meadows inspired Thompson to take it a step further. Now he approaches purveyors including Crystal River Meats and Whole Foods Markets to purchase less desirable, surplus cuts and damaged or wilted produce deemed unsellable to shoppers.
“We [use] ugly foods that most often go into the trash or get composted... excess habanero bacon end cuts from Tender Belly in Denver… bug-damaged arugula and pullet eggs [laid by immature chickens] from RBR,” ompson says. “The challenge is still making it luxurious and delicious.”
Old-fashioned conservation techniques help save such ugly foods from careless disposal. RBR executive director Smith credits Farm Runners—a North Fork Valley delivery service that supplies harvest to multiple area restaurants—with pushing chefs to can, freeze and otherwise preserve late-summer bounty for use during long, Rocky Mountain winters.
Meanwhile, composting—practiced for years by RBR, as well as venues including the Meadows, Bumps Restaurant at Buttermilk Mountain, and Jimmy’s through afree City of Aspen collections program—will likely be nonnegotiable in coming years. Composting saves shrinking landll space, prevents methane emissions and creates nutrient-rich soils that return to crops.
“Aspen is progressive because we have a continually growing number of restaurants participating voluntarily in our compost collections program,” says Dave Reindel, co-founder and collections manager of EverGreen ZeroWaste. “Interestingly, there aren’t many other Colorado municipalities with composting programs of this magnitude. Most other programs are focused around the Denver-Boulder area.”
(Shocking no one, Reindel calls Carbondale “the compost capital of Western Colorado—and that’s with no tough waste ordinances.”)
Jimmy’s staff began composting seriously in 2015 after launching a slew of energy-eciency initiatives that earned it one of five inaugural Sustainable Spirit Awards at Tales of the Cocktail in 2016. Still, Jimmy’s general manager and partner Jessica Lischka knows more can be done. “We’ve learned that waste is a small piece of the problem,” Lischka says. “Carbon emissions are a much larger, pressing problem for everyone.”
The biggest culprit: food production. However strong the buy-local movement, Aspen nds itself in a Catch-22: Sourcing locally is expected by diners, yet aordable land is scarce and the growing season mercilessly short. Jimmy’s may oer beef from Kurt Russell’s Home Run Ranch in Old Snowmass when available, Lischka explains, but certain items, such as the oysters popular at Jimmy’s Bodega, will likely never be cultivated here.
Since Jimmy’s recently secured another 20-year lease on Hopkins Avenue, Lischka sees drastic change by 2037. “You’re not going to see the same sh on the menu, because they’re overfished,” she says. “Consumers will have to adjust; restaurants can be a leader in helping to shape those expectations.”
Photography by: PHOTO BY GRANT CORNETT