Colorado Is for Foodies: Beaver Creek’s Master Chef Classic

So yesterday I told you about my ridiculously incredibly phenomenally awesome experience at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch. (Seriously, if you didn’t read my previous story, you really ought to do a quick 180 and get up to speed. I’ll wait …)

Take your time …

I’ve got all day.

Okay. I’ll assume that by now you’re caught up and teetering between extreme jealousy and bitter admiration. Excellent. Let’s move on.

If you’ll recall, I was in gorgeous Colorado to attend the 13th-annual Beaver CreekMaster Chef Classic, presented by Bon Appétit. In a series of epicurean events, talented chefs and hungry skiers mixed and mingled throughout the appetizing weekend over tasty nibbles and sinful sips. I may be a bad cook and an even worse skier, but I can eat with the best of ’em (move over, Adam Richman!), so I was psyched for a few days and nights of gourmet gluttony.

Thursday-Night Dinner: Besh-a Me Mucho
New Orleans has a plethora of chefs who can cook authentic Louisiana dishes that will knock your socks off and punch you in the face with flavor. And the James Beard Award–winning chef John Besh is no exception. A N’awlins native, Besh infuses his food with a Cajun flair that’s unique and innovative. So I was looking forward to his auction dinner at Splendido at the Chateau, benefitting the Bright Future Foundation.

I arrived at the restaurant with my new press-trip friends and went straight for the bar lined with pretty-in-pinkish-orange cocktails. For the record, when you’re at a schmancy dinner with a crowd of strangers, a Martha Washington punch made with Zacapa rum is just what the psychiatrist ordered for a case of social-anxiety disorder. Spiffy waiters handed out hoity-toity hors d’oeuvres like spiced eggplant and burrata croustades and foie gras fritters with huckleberry-bourbon jam.

Before sitting at my assigned table, I tiptoed into the kitchen to get the full backstage effect. And I must say, it was very impressive. That was one clean kitchen. I would have literally eaten that salad of jumbo gulf shrimp (our first course) off the floor. Before they could kick me out, Martha Washington and I slipped into our booth, and I tried the mojito popcorn displayed at each table. Subtly sweet and slightly salty, this totally beats your average movie snack.

The lemongrass blue-crab bisque with pork and crab dumplings was rich and satisfying. And while I was initially terrified by the idea of slow-cooked elk shoulder, it was actually rather good. Though I did feel guilty when I returned to the Ritz later in the evening and looked up to see a giant elk’s head hanging on the wall. (Sorry, buddy.)

Friday Afternoon: Exercise the Body and the Mouth
I’d never tried snowshoeing before, so I was pumped to get a workout on the mountain. I strapped on the funky footwear and hitched a ride up to the starting point in a Master Chef–branded Subaru. The afternoon excursion entailed a challenging hike, followed by a rewarding luncheon at Grouse Mountain Grill, catered by season-four Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard.

Going down the mountain was far more fun than ascending it—I haven’t gotten a workout like that since … well, since my attempt at skiing the day before. Nevertheless, I was coughing and heaving and hacking and gasping for air up at that harsh oxygen-deprived altitude. But once I took a break—and a breath—I was blown away by the beauty surrounding me. This sure beats a day at the office.

Lunch was far better than my usual deli salad too. First of all, I usually don’t drink quite as much wine at noon. And goat belly confit is not my ordinary fare. Served with bourbon-buttered lobster, this dish was decadence defined—and also a little unnerving. I had to will myself to forget what I was actually eating. Good thing the main course was a little less adventurous: melt-in-your mouth pan-roasted striped bass with shrimp, spaghetti squash, and, oh yeah, goat sausage. (What’s up with that?!) Considering the name of Izard’s Chicago restaurant is Girl & the Goat, I guess it makes a bit more sense.

Friday Night: Let the Battle Begin!
I’m a huge Iron Chef fan. I DVR new and old episodes and drool over the creative concoctions dreamed up by those illustrious industry icons. I’ve had fantasies in which I’m on the judging panel, cracking jokes with the Chairman and rubbing fat rolls with Jeffrey Steingarten. So watching a live version of the succulent smackdown sounded as irresistible as Bobby Flay’s carrot-top curls. (No seriously, I think he’s super sexy.)

I grabbed my plastic cup of cabernet and took a seat in the middle of the auditorium of Beaver Creek’s Vilar Center for the Arts. For two torturous hours I enjoyed the intoxicating aromas of the most amazing foods being steamed, fried, baked, and basted. But tasting them was not an option. And I realized then and there that smell-ivision should never be invented.

Esteemed chefs Jose Garces, Joey Campanaro, Kelly Liken, and Izard were challenged to whip up creative dishes in 20-minute mini competitions with secret ingredients ranging from Kahlua to green chilies to rabbit meat. In the end, Campanaro was proclaimed the Master Chef winner—and I was the self-proclaimed hungriest audience member.

Saturday Morning: French Pastries With a Frenchman
Nothing gets me going in the morning like a big cup of coffee served with something flaky and sweet. So a Friday morning spent with famous French pastry chef Francois Payard was the ultimate A.M. pick me up.

Payard demonstrated his tantalizing techniques in front of an intimate class of 25 at the lovely Beaver Creek Park Hyatt. Preparing two luscious chocolate cakes (stay tuned to GlamNest for recipes!), Payard piqued our attention and stimulated our appetites.

Between ogling the eye candy and straining to understand his thick accent, I barely had a moment to process his process. But I did jot down a few funny quotes: “Small things give you the best results …” “You always have to work in a clean kitchen …” “When you see a beautiful cake in the window, you buy it with your eyes …” And my favorite: “The Chef is always right—even when he’s wrong.” I guess they’re funnier when said with his irresistible Pepé Le Pew–esque accent. Seriously, read ’em again …. Told you.

But if I’m going to relay anything noteworthy about this session, it would be Payard’s recommendation for creating “simple” cake decorations. He suggests freezing a thick slab of marble overnight and then pouring hot melted chocolate on top. Spread it out with a spatula and it will instantly harden. Peel it up in one swift motion and mold the chocolate into abstract shapes. Voilà. (Easier said than done, Chef.)

After “we” baked, Payard signed copies of his new cookbook, Chocolate Epiphany, and chatted with his devoted dessert groupies. We sampled the decadent cakes and sipped Laurent-Perrier Brut champagne. Screw coffee—this is how every single morning should begin.

Saturday Night: The Grand Finale
If you always want to end things on a high note, then the Master Chef Classic grand tasting at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch (a.k.a. my new home) was like a glass-shattering soprano.

Local and national super-chefs and winemakers hobnobbed in one luxurious ballroom to tempt patrons with titillating bits, bites, and sips. I sampled sushi, goat chili (Izard’s, of course), and wild boar. I visited my new friends John Besh and Joey Campanaro and tasted their to-die-for dishes. I laughed at Grouse Mountain Grill chef David Gutowski’s upscale interpretation of the “McRib,” featuring succulent pork belly. I sampled more of Payard’s perfect little pastries and popped multiple mini bacon-and-maple-syrup cupcakes into my greedy mouth. I lustfully sipped glass after glass of Lust Zinfandel from Michael David Winery (which is my new favorite pour, BTW) and tipsily chatted with my media and foodie friends.

It was the ideal conclusion to a fabulous few days. I was content, drunk, and sleepy. And despite the skiing and snowshoeing, I was pretty sure I had packed on an extra 10 pounds (editor’s note: speculation confirmed). I could feel the food coma approaching, so I rode the elevator up to my room and collapsed in my bed, where snoring immediately commenced. I didn’t think that Colorado with its snow-capped mountains and stylish snow bunnies was for me. But it turns out Colorado is first and foremost for foodies. Bon appétit.

*Photos 1, 5, and 6 Courtesy of Tom Green