Standing a half-mile above the base of Lift 1A, I tasted Aspen Mountain. It was late September 2013, two months into my post as “Food Matters” columnist of the Aspen Times Weekly, and beekeeper and former ski patroller Ed Colby held out a honeycomb plucked straight from one of 10 hives he maintained up there. Pale nectar oozed from the wax casing; he urged me to try it. It was “sweet and light, just like wildflowers,” I wrote. The bees that pollinate flowers on Aspen Mountain, Colby noted, produced uniquely flavored honey that resisted granulation, even when stored for years.
Today, Colby’s hives are long gone. The operation, he told me later — once I discovered that “Aspen Mountain honey” had disappeared from the cheese board served in the Living Room at The Little Nell — was unsustainable. The bees flying around Ajax produced just a fraction of Colby’s output, anyway; back then, Colby managed 100 hives in seven locations. He refocused his efforts on nurturing bees on his family farm in New Castle. It was time for change.
Now, after eight years, 369 columns, hundreds of interviews, and countless tastes around the table, I am moving on from “Food Matters.” It’s time for fresh flavors. There’s still a lot more to explore in Aspen, though, so I’m launching a website, AmandaRaeFood.com, and companion newsletter, amandaraefood.substack.com.
This past weekend I took a stroll down memory lane while digging through my archive. Wow, I’ve covered (and eaten) a ton of food in Aspen! I’ve chronicled historic moments, such as the first-ever cannabis pairing dinner held in downtown Aspen, at the Crystal Palace (“So Dope,” Jan. 29, 2015) and I’ve recapped events ranging from the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Aspen Ideas Festival, and Jazz Aspen Snowmass to the Aspen Mac and Cheese Festival, Soupsköl, Après-Ski Cocktail Classic, Lead With Love, and Australia Day. I’ve journeyed to the Shamrock Foods Expo and the American Cheese Society’s competition in Denver. I even served as a judge at the Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brew Fest.
Writing “Food Matters” has been a ton of fun, amid remodels, rebrands, closures, and resurrections. I’ve gone on pizza quests and taco tours. I’ve worked the bottling line at Carbondale’s Marble Distilling Co. and helped to haul food up to Bonnie’s on Aspen Mountain via snow cat. I’ve gone glamping, then stepped into some of our town’s tiniest restaurant kitchens. I’ve shared photo essays of the most epic culinary tattoos; heartwarming Thanksgiving stories; and gruesome tales for my Halloween-special “Kitchen Nightmares.”
And oh, the places I’ve gone! I’ve scouted meals throughout Colorado (Basalt, Carbondale, El Jebel, Glenwood Springs, Leadville, Rifle, Paonia, Telluride, Golden, Boulder, Denver) and in New York, Chicago, California, Texas, the Berkshires, and Black Rock City. I’ve met chefs and home cooks in Mexico; Tokyo; Havana, Cuba; and Sydney, Australia, among others.
I’ve written stories about serious topics, too: suicide, domestic violence, sustainability and plastic, FDA bans on synthetic food substances, and how shortages and recalls trickle down the supply chain. A plea to reconsider the etiquette of dining out during a pandemic (“Rules of Engagement,” Dec. 17, 2020) garnered robust feedback, especially from those in the service-industry. When I wrote about composting in October 2017, Liz O’Connell of the City of Aspen Environmental Health and Sustainability Department reached out: “Our office has seen an increase in people calling to start composting in response to the piece.”
Another deeply gratifying moment: when Carbondale Community Bread Oven founder Linda Romero Criswell noted that my words served her mission in a way I didn’t anticipate: “I’ll bet your wonderful article helped [us] get this grant!”
I’ve shared anecdotes (and recipes) from my own kitchen adventures: making sourdough starter, kimchi, cannabutter, oatmeal pancakes, and infused vinegar. Last summer I chronicled my biggest work to date, “The Aspen Cookbook” (November 2020), and a resulting collaboration with the Aspen Dining Sourcebook.
Ultimately, though, “Food Matters” has been about people. Along the way I’ve shared stories from chefs, farmers, purveyors, home bakers, chocolatiers, coffee roasters, and culinary instructors. I quizzed athletes on what they eat to gain a competitive edge and let restaurateur power couples offer tips on balancing business and love. Interview highlights with culinary legends include: Jacques Pépin, Francis Mallmann, Gail Simmons, and former Aspen chef-restaurateur Charles Dale. Seeing Alice Waters, Martha Stewart, and Guy Fieri captivate live audiences in Aspen has been educational as well. I’ve cooked with Afghanistan refugees, award-winning top chefs, and young cooks starting out in the field.
“Having that sense of community is key,” chef C. Barclay Dodge advised in 2018, “to draw people into the center of the table. When you pull in, the conversation pulls in.”
I’m grateful for these nourishing opportunities that “Food Matters” and the Aspen Times Weekly team, chiefly ATW Editor Andrew Travers, have afforded me over the years. I’m proud that this column is going out on top. Pre-pandemic in 2019, “Food Matters” won “Best Serious Column” at the 2019 Colorado Press Association Awards. The judges summarized my submissions, detailing chef Dodge’s work at Bosq and chef Taylor William Hale’s at Maru Aspen: “For this foodie audience, it doesn’t get much better.”
I know there is more work to do, and I’m excited for this next chapter. I’m launching Amanda Rae Food because I believe that there’s a feast of food news in Aspen to report, and I’m still hungry to dig in. I hope that you’ll support my endeavor to provide timely stories based upon the myriad miscellaneous tidbits I gather every day as a journalist. I envision Amanda Rae Food as a tasty new platform for me to share more of my story, too.
Winter 2021/22 is shaping up to bring big food energy to Aspen — see you at the table.