Know Thy Farmer

Organic food is great, says Top Chef alum and Iron Chef America competitor Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado. But fresh ingredients grown and raised by your skilled neighbors are almost always tastier.


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My obsession with buying local ingredients for my kitchen is the same as a winemaker understanding the subtleties of terroir. We both study, and come to know how certain slopes, soils and elevations can produce vastly different flavors.

Given the choice between two equally high-quality products, I’ll choose local, even if it wasn’t certified organic. I feel it’s important to intimately know how something is produced and who is producing it. I also think it’s a key way to support our community and grow the local economy. At the restaurant we follow this ideal religiously.

That’s not to say we never purchase from out of state, but we seriously consider how far our food is traveling in the decision-making process. After all, much of the certified organic produce that we consume in the U.S. is grown as far away as Mexico and Chile. When I get something from a few miles down the road that was just picked this morning, it is so much fresher than something that’s been on the truck for three days. It’s prettier, tastier, lasts longer and there’s so much less waste. In fact, people are absolutely flabbergasted by how long my food lasts for a fine dining restaurant.

I do think the interest in organics is a good thing. On a macro scale, it’s healthier for you and the land. That being said, I’d rather buy and consume produce and meat grown and raised with organic principles close to home. People need to know there are so many small farms and ranches out there that aren’t in the financial position to get the federal organic certification. Certified organic doesn’t matter so much to me because I know my farmers and how they’re working.

For example, we have a family, a father-and-son team, that decided to raise poultry. It was fun because we tried all kinds of breeds and different sizes. Now they’re raising all of our ducks. That same family grows some of our produce in greenhouses, as well. They’re planting seeds that we pick out. They’ll say, “I found these heirloom carrots, can we try them?”And I’ll say, “Yeah,” and then 30 or 40 days later I have these delicious, fresh purple carrots on my cutting board.

You really can’t beat that. —As told to Alexis Korman

Chef Liken shares her favorite hyperlocal dishes and wine pairings:

The Plate: Slow-cooked sweet carrots, with carrot ginger custard, green onion salad and green onion pistou.
The Pour: Robert Sinskey’s 2011 Abraxas Vin de Terroir from Carneros.

The Plate: Pumpkin ravioli with duck confit, roasted pumpkin, molasses jus, fiore sardo and spiced pepitas.
The Pour: Owen Roe’s Merlot-based 2009 Yakima Valley Red Wine.

The Plate: Roasted Colorado lamb loin with celery root gratin, fennel-arugula salad and cranberry-leek compote.
The Pour: Domaine de Saint Siffrein’s 2005 Terre d’Abel Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Chef Liken's Slow Cooked Sweet Carrots 

Recipe courtesy chef/owner Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado

Carrot Custard
4½ cups orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2½ cups carrot juice
3¾ cups cream, divided
2 pounds carrots, grated
14 sheets gelatin
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup water

Combine the carrot, sugar and orange juices in a saucepan and reduce by half over medium heat. Place the grated carrots in a second saucepan with 3 cups of the cream and bring the mixture to a boil, remove from heat and let steep. Bloom the gelatin in the water and heat the mixture up just until it dissolves, then set aside.

Whip the remaining ¾ cup of cream to stiff peaks, then set aside. Combine the cream/carrot mixture with the reduced juices in a blender and blend until smooth. Next, pass the purée through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the melted gelatin and fold in the whipped cream gently. Grease an 8 x 8 baking dish and pour the custard into it. Place in the refrigerator until set, at least 4 hours. Once set, cut into 1- by 2-inch rectangles.

Green Onion Pistou
1 bunch scallions, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup olive oil

Place the scallions, ginger, mustard and lemon juice in a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated.

Orange-Ginger Vinaigrette
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped shallot
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups olive oil

Place the juices, mustard, shallot and honey into a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated.

Carrots
27–30 baby carrots, peeled and roasted or boiled until tender
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
2 scallions, green parts only, julienned
Salt and pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl, dress the baby carrots with the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. In a smaller bowl, mix the julienned carrots and scallions, and dress lightly with the same vinaigrette.

Spread about a tablespoon of the pistou across each plate. Top with 1 rectangle of custard on each plate and arrange a bit of the julienned salad onto of the custard. Arrange the baby carrots just to the side of the custard. Serves 6.

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