#TheNewWest: How We Got Here
By the time this is published, we (the Bin 707 Foodbar team) will have just completed one of our most eclectic events to date. The Beer Hearts Wine dinner was a collaboration of chefs, brewers, winemakers, farmers, a rancher, a peach orchard, several event coordinators, and countless hours of preparation.
The theme of the event being fermentation, we scheduled it alongside the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest. It was co-organized by Jensen Cummings of Brewed Food and Sarah Howat of Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales. The five-course dinner for 60 showcased the marriage of wine, beer and food from a fermentation standpoint. It took place in a peach orchard in Palisade, Colorado, and was almost exclusively sourced from Colorado's Grand Valley.
It was an honor to showcase our local terroir and community, to work alongside some of the brightest minds in the industry, and to introduce them to the bountiful local and natural resources that are the historic backbone to our area. The event was a uniquely regional take on fine dining, and it offered a glimpse of where we could be headed in the future. It’s worth stopping along the way to consider … how did we get here?
Just over 10 years ago, shortly before the Great Recession, a high-end meal was likely to be an uninspired Caesar salad, followed by an oversized steak, some sautéed green beans, and a liquid-centered chocolate cake for dessert. Really nice places disguised everything with French- or Italian-inspired names, regardless of where the food or flavors originated.
Then the bottom fell out of the restaurant industry, and a grassroots farm-to-table movement began. Agricultural communities like ours held great opportunity for growth as local became a buzzword and chefs began planning menus around seasonal availability. The trend exploded, interrupting the food systems we've had in place for decades, and now we are watching the slow demise of large national chains.
At the same time, cookbooks are on top-seller lists; our communities are supported by multiple CSAs; and our local supermarkets offer nopales, organic heirloom beets, and cold-pressed juices in the same aisle. Across our culture, eating and cooking habits have evolved to follow the do-it-yourself dining ethos of the last decade.
While these trends aren't unique to the western United States, I believe we have the benefit of them, due to our agricultural infrastructure, abundant space and resources, and popularity as a destination.
Top-tier chefs from around the country are moving west into small towns with affordable real estate and vast natural resources. High-end destination resorts – complete with in-house butchers and Michelin-star-caliber chefs – are popping up around natural hot springs. Large dining rooms are downsizing into more formal, intimate spaces. Menus with 30-plus items are being replaced with set tasting menus that change weekly, if not more frequently.
On any given night, diners from all over the world are in countless U.S. towns and cities – including ours – eating regional dishes with local ingredients, drinking inventive “sourced” cocktails and wines from within their own area codes, and enjoying polished service. One could go so far as to say we are collectively recreating fine dining, all stemming from the idea of local sourcing.
This evolution was exemplified by our Beer Hearts Wine dinner and the collaboration that made it happen. It’s something that we in the West have effectively done together, thanks to our young history, entrepreneurial spirit, and room to grow. I say we perpetuate this behavior, continue to make it our own, and begin to put a name on it – #TheNewWest!