As more and more foodies begin to seek out travel destinations based on culinary offerings, hotels are working hard to incorporate food and beverage concepts that will stand out—not only in the lodging scene, but in the restaurant scene as well. Several hotels have announced partnerships with celebrity chefs, but the St. Regis in Aspen is doing something a little bit different.
The mountain resort opened Chefs Club by Food & Wine last month. The innovative restaurant concept gives a group of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs a chance to curate one-of-a-kind menus that will change on a seasonal basis. The participating chef's will change biannually, so the offerings of Chef's Club will always represent cutting-edge food from the culinary world's best new talent.
For Paul Duce, general manager of the newly opened hotel restaurant, the concept was something that excited him from the start. Duce left his position as a manager at TRIO at the Four Seasons in Austin, Texas—a job he thoroughly enjoyed—to be a part of Chefs Club.
"I was minding my own business at another job that I was very happy at, when I got the phone call from one of my former F&B directors," he says. " I saw the vision unfurling right before my eyes. I said, 'I have to be a part of this.'"
The unique aspect of Chefs Club is that each participating chef contributes original dishes to the menu in at least four different categories. If a guest wants to enjoy an entire meal from just one chef, he or she has that option, but if a guest wants to experience dishes created by all four culinary masters, that option is available as well.
"The chefs come to the hotel and bring out their menu ideas, and we have a team and ownership tasting," says Duce. "We bring all the input together and see what really works. We want the best of the best of the best on the menu."
The inaugural group of chefs include Georges Mendes of Aldea, New York, N.Y.; James Lewis of Bettola, Birmingham, Ala.; Alex Seidel of Fruition, Denver, Colo.; and Sue Zemanick of Gautreau's, New Orleans, La. These chefs will make appearances at the resort throughout the year to showcase the concept to guests and the local community. And each chef brings something inherently different to the Chefs Club menu.
"One of the items Sue Zemanick put on the menu is wild mushroom pierogies," says Duce. "Some of her earliest memories were getting mushrooms with her grandmother to make these pierogies. So there's a very emotional tie with Sue to the menu. These are very special items."
Duce explains that Seidel, owner and executive chef at Fruition, owns his own farm, which provides fresh, local ingredients to more than 25 Denver-area restaurants.
"Alex makes his own cheese and he's got 110 sheep that have to be milked twice daily," he says. "This is the level that we're at. There is a serious commitment. These chefs practice what they preach."
Chefs Club Executive Chef Thomas Riordan and his team of culinary professionals execute the vision of each Best New Chef. And those guests who want to get close to Riordan and all the cooking action can reserve a seat at what Duce refers to as the "Chef's Table"—eight chairs that sit directly in front of the dynamic open kitchen.
In addition to the food at Chefs Club, Food & Wine editors created custom cocktail and wine lists which will also change seasonally with each menu. Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle is responsible for wine pairings and Jim Meehan, one of the nation’s leading mixologists, is in charge of cocktails.
Duce says that the response to the restaurant has been extremely positive during its first month in operation, and he's hoping to put Chefs Club and the St. Regis on Aspen's culinary map.
"When we started training back in May, I told my team that being in the top five or top three was great," he says. "But, I really want to be the number one restaurant in Aspen. We have such a deep roster of powerful players, and Chefs Club really is the perfect partnership between two truly iconic brands."