Secret Garden

BY Stephanie Davis Smith | May 17, 2017 | Feature Features National

Guests at the Food & Wine Classic will be some of the first to try Element 47's farm-fresh experimentation.
Summer harvest vegetable salad with a crispy panko-crusted poached egg

Last year, Element 47 at The Little Nell planted some seeds and let them grow. Not in a pretentious metaphorical kind of way, but literally. The restaurant is one of the only in Aspen to cultivate its own gardens and use the resulting produce on the menu. In that first year, the chefs discovered plenty. Armed with new knowledge, they’re ready for some radical farming. When the five-star restaurant (only one of two in the whole state) comes back online June 1 for a few weeks in conjunction with the Food & Wine Classic, guests will get to taste the fruits of those efforts.

“The coolest part of [this endeavor] is being there with the farmer,” says Patrick Dunn, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, who works closely with a local farmer on a plot of land in nearby Basalt to grow produce specifically for the hotel’s kitchen.“[The farmer] was growing carrots last year, and we said, ‘What if we just grew tops? Just to size, before they are overgrown?’” Both Dunn and executive chef Matt Zubrod have delighted in being able to customize produce for the kitchen—a luxury that was never possible through regular food suppliers or even with farmers market fare. In an experimental move this season, they put more rows in the ground. Harvesting early allows chefs to bring a truly unique flavor to the plates at Element 47.

“Flavors are superconcentrated if you keep produce small,” adds Dunn. “I asked, ‘Can we grow the radish only to this [smaller] size?’ The farmers were surprised, as they are accustomed to growing the biggest produce they can for market.” But Dunn and Zubrod wanted to keep the arugula smaller, grow some edible flowers, try something new.

“The flowers that come from oregano are delicious and much more tender,” he says. “And the farmer grew these spicy chiles that have a blossom before it matures that’s actually mild.” Dunn wants that blossom—bad. “That’s why I’m excited about this year,” says Dunn. “I’ve been to plenty of farmers markets, but I’ve never been part of an actual farm growing process. It’s amazing to see the potential of what can be grown.” 675 E. Durant Ave., 970.920.6330

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