Food For Thought: The Peaks & Palmyra
Like choir boys, the trio – general manager, Dave Ciani, executive chef Patrick Funk, and food and beverage manager/sommelier, Nathan Kaiser at The Peaks Resort & Spa – sang in perfect harmony. Their refrain, both a wish and a vision statement, articulated by Ciani:“To be as regionally relevant as possible.”
Now under Grand Heritage management, The Peaks is a world within the world of Mountain Village and the region’s only full-service hotel.
The sprawling facility is regionally relevant as a venue that supports local nonprofits and events.
The Peaks is also regionally relevant as an economic driver because its world-class spa, with a laundry list of amenities, including a Medi-Spa, newly appointed lifestyle coach, 32 treatment rooms, and fully-equipped fitness center, is fast becoming a magnet for locals and guests from all over the world.
For golfers, The Peaks is not merely relevant, it is the only show in town. In summer, it is central ops for the Pro Shop for the Telluride Ski & Golf Company’s 18-hole championship course, which serves as a public course for locals and guests, but also offers a private club for members only.
The facility is regionally relevant even in terms of the art on its walls, all sourced from local galleries and artists.
But Ciani’s mantra about regional relevance resonates loudest and clearest in the hotel’s comprehensive food service, orchestrated by gifted chef Patrick Funk.
Though still a young 29, Funk is mature in experience. Having worked in kitchens since the age of 13, he was classically trained in culinary arts at Johnson and Wales University. He then rose through the ranks of some of the most recognized kitchens in Colorado, building a resume that includes executive chef at the Beaver Creek Chophouse, senior sous chef at the Westin Riverfront’s Restaurant Avondale, and club chef at the Little Nell in Aspen. Right out of school, Funk landed a job at the AAA 5 Diamond Broadmoor Hotel & Resort. He went on to work with culinary icons such as world-famous Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se.
Taking a leaf from Ciani’s playbook, Funk is determined to source locally (or as close as he can get without sacrificing quality) to deliver regional ingredients at their best. His food philosophy is simple: “Use the freshest seasonal ingredients and then let the natural flavors shine in dishes prepared with a modern, understated flair.”
Funk puts pedal to the metal (literally) to deliver on his words.
Last fall, for example, Chef high-tailed it to Cortez ahead of the crowds to buy out the entire crop of Hatch green chilies, 12 bushels in all, to serve throughout the season. (Try them served in the chili on the lunch menu made with Tender Belly Pork.)
Funk buys a lot of his produce from Buckhorn Farms, which he first discovered (like many of his regional suppliers) at the Telluride Farmer’s Market. So-named because it lies at the base of Buckhorn Mountain in Colona, Colorado, the farm features a growing dome and three high tunnels that allow for year-round production. Funk’s arrangement with the supplier is simple and a model of sustainability: into his kitchen comes Buckhorn’s produce; out the back door go all of the scraps from the kitchen’s fruits and veggies, which Buckhorn turns into compost.
Gunnison River Farms is an organic, biodynamic spread between Hotchkiss and Delta Colorado. The 1,000+ acre property is nestled into the riverbed and features hundreds of farming acres, ancient petroglyphs, vineyards, and orchards. The property was originally homesteaded by the Ferganchick family, who worked for over a century to turn the landscape into some of the best peach-producing orchards in the valley. The farm was purchased by the Herrick family in 1998. The Herricks also happen to be major investors in The Peaks. So guess where Funk sources the peaches he turns into a rich marmalade to serve with his crispy Tender Belly Pork Belly (a Denver supplier) on the dinner menu?
Gunnison River also produces its own wine under the Jack Rabbit Hill label, whose Pinot Noir, one of Kaiser’s favorites, is used in Funk’s kitchen to prepare the rich brown sauce used by itself in French cuisine or as a base for other sauces known as a a demi-glace. A bottle of same might be featured along with other Jack Rabbit Hill grapes – Pinot Gris, a Riesling – with dinner.
Under the CapRock label, Peaks Spirits, also a product of Gunnison River, were among the ingredients in one of the two signature cocktails that kicked off our lunch – rather, gave our lunch a kick: The Telluride Mule is made with CapRock Vodka, Canton ginger liqueur, fresh lime, and ginger beer.
In all, 70% of what Funk puts on the plate is sourced regionally.
The picture is clear, Funk and Palmyra are all about farm to table, another way of spelling “regional relevance.”
But how does it all play out on the plate?
Lunch at Palmyra:
The proof is in the pudding – or in our case, the memorable lunch we enjoyed at The Peak’s signature watering hole, Palmyra.
Our table of four included our friend and professional colleague, Marla Meridith, founder, editor and photographer of the fabulous food blog familyfreshcooking.com, who partners with Telluride Inside… and Out to spread the good word about food and drink in the Telluride region, working with us to post two reviews, one on each site.
(Also find Marla on Twitter, Facebook: Food, Facebook: Lifestyle, Pinterest, and Instagram.)
Our first course was a Cobb Salad. Funk prepares the traditional favorite deconstructed so you could taste the sum of the parts, which included a great blue cheese – Moody Blue Cheese – smoked in Wisconsin. The savory creamy dressing was avocado herb.
Telluride is way too hip to be called a cow town, but the two burgers we split four ways gave the handle a whole other meaning.
The lamb burger was served “Peaks” style with Bibb lettuce, roasted tomato, shaved onion, white cheddar cheese and a garlic aioli to give the ingredients bite. The more classic beef burger was prepared “Pandora” style with pepper jack cheese, and avocado. The hero of that dish was the pickled jalapeño pico de gallo, a kind of salsa.
(And if burgers are your thing, you should know that every day, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., The Peaks offers a burger special, one of the best deals in the region: a classic beef burger with all the trimmings and a beer for just $10.)
We four sampled two “large plates” too.
For the omnivores among us, Funk’s melt-in-your-mouth crispy pork shanks, juicy, flavorful and tender enough to fall off the bone. A sweet and spicy BBQ sauce tops off the delicacy served with cheddar grits (Western-speak for polenta).
For the vegetarians in the crowd, we tasted the squash “pasta,” made with zucchini, acorn and pink banana squash tossed in a tomato “guazzetto.” Translation? It’s tomatoes that have been basted in vinegar, salt, and pepper to spice up the dish. Skip the parmesan cheese offered on the side and the mashup is vegan.
We protested we were too full for dessert but chef insisted, so we tried Funk’s goat cheese and honey thyme cheesecake, prepared with toasted walnuts, amaretto cherries, and Grand Marnier caramel, also the fried and flaky s’mores donuts with cocoa nib gelato, both fine examples of Chef’s penchant for updated oldies but goodies.
All in all, the meal was a home run.
And the fine food was matched by the setting, as dramatic as the eponymous peak which gives the room its name – and just one of three visible from the wall of glass that encloses the space. Gone now is the “fire and ice” decor, which was way too Vegas for Telluride. In its place, a comfortable, clubby room with tastefully curated artwork. And counter to the pop trend in hip eateries to replicate the inside of a cattle car, there is plenty of elbowroom and enough insulation to invite conversation
Can’t make it for lunch? The Peaks offers breakfast and a breakfast buffet ( 7 – 11 a.m.), lunch 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., an apres ski/social menu in The Great Room, and dinner, 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
(For dinner, be sure to talk with Nathan Kaiser, a certified Level 2 sommelier now working on his advanced certification. Like Ciani and Funk, he is a foodie, also charming and deeply knowledegable, with a pedigree that includes stints at Cosmo, Alpino Vino, and Allreds.
Room service at The Peaks is available 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. And the Steaming Bean coffee shop operates from 6:30 a.m. –1:30 p.m. Funk also offers catering services for small and large events. That’s a lot on his proverbial plate, but he is supported by sous chef Chuck Sauer, a demi chef, Graeme Charles, 15 cooks and seven stewards.
For reservations, call 970-728-6800.
Now take it away Marla…