Do My Sustainable Dinner of a Lifetime in Aspen
I fell in love with Aspen over a decade ago, won over not only by its first-rate powder and wide-open sense of space, but also by its phenomenal cultural and dining scenes. It’s a small town, but one with a world-class sense of self. The latest case in point? One of my favorite restaurants, Prospect, has lured Mads Refslund, an initial partner in the groundbreaking Danish restaurant Noma, to be its chef-in-residence through March.
I was thrilled at the idea, but could Chef Mads’s food live up to my usual Braised Colorado Lambshank “Braciole”? I booked a reservation, not exactly knowing what to expect by his “sustainable and no-waste” cooking philosophy. It all sounded high-minded and good in theory, but I also wanted mind-blowingly delicious.
I opted for the Chef Tasting menu. Snacks “on ice”—including the largest oysters on the half shell I’d ever seen, drizzled with tarragon herb oil—arrived first, followed by snacks “on fire,” such as sunchokes with crème fraîche that had been cooked, and charred perfectly, by a live fire.
Six (yes, you heard that right) more extraordinary dishes followed, including grilled king crab legs with tarragon and brown butter, served on a bed of rosemary with its own utensil made from the tip of the crab claw. I learned that Chef Mads is a conservationist and that red king crab, the largest of the king crabs, is an invasive species, eating pretty much everything in its way and taking over the ecosystem in the Barents Sea situated off the coasts of Norway and Russia. For that, they’ve been dubbed by some as “Stalin’s crabs,” so it was nice to know I was doing my part in helping out by enjoying such superflavorful, intensely sweet white meat.
Another invasive species on the menu is Santa Barbara sea urchin which lives off the Southern California coast, ravaging its underwater kelp forests, and decimating populations of species that rely on them, like abalone. Again, I happily played my part, savoring the delicacy, which was served imaginatively inside a winter squash with chestnuts and sunflower petals.
My mysteriously named “Falling Fruit” dessert was inspired by fruit-bearing trees and what happens in the autumn and winter, when ripe fruit falls to the ground and dries up, concentrating its flavors. To mimic that, Chef Mads’s experimental dish features frozen wheatgrass, sorrel granita and his version of “snow,” all atop a layer of ice, which reminded me of a frozen lake. As I broke through the ice, I found creamy yogurt hidden underneath, mixed with dehydrated, intensely flavorful fruit, a delicious nod to the fallen fruit left to dry on the ground through the winter.
My verdict? Ingenious and sustainable can definitely be (wildly) delicious.