Relais & Châteaux, the French hospitality association known for its 500 luxury retreats the world over, has but a single location in Colorado. The Home Ranch in Clark is tucked up into the northwest corner of the state, 18 miles from Steamboat Springs. Recently in New York, Relais & Châteaux threw a party to spotlight the extraordinary cuisine of this larger than life dude ranch. Executive chef Clyde Nelson and chef de cuisine Craig Singer showed a group of New Yorkers that food at the ranch is about as far away from a chuck wagon as you can get.
“It’s sophisticated western cuisine with an emphasis on regional traditional roots.”
The Home Ranch takes farm-to-table to a new level with what chef Nelson calls “haute mountain cuisine.” “It’s sophisticated western cuisine with an emphasis on regional traditional roots,” he told us. “We concentrate on wild game, ranch-raised lamb and beef and high altitude vegetables.” At the chef’s instigation, The Home Ranch has started an elaborate garden, which will allow them to extend the Colorado growing season by several months. Geothermal heating in a large greenhouse keeps the soil warm enough that the chef can pick herbs, baby lettuces, vegetables and even edible flowers right into December. What the ranch doesn’t grow or raise itself all comes from local purveyors who share the chef’s obsession for quality.
Chef Nelson grew up in Farmington, Conn., where his father maintained a garden so large that the chef’s first job was selling produce at a roadside stand. The chef was drawn to the Rockies and has been at The Home Ranch since 1989. At the Relais & Châteaux event, guests were treated to items ranging from a wildly flavorful pork bratwurst slider complete with two home made relishes to a stuffed pattypan squash blossom. In keeping with their desire to focus on Colorado’s culinary history, guests got a history lesson with a plate featuring pulled pork stuffed empanaditas. Colorado, chef Nelson pointed out, was once a part of Mexico. The quality of the vegetables, all carefully brought from the ranch, was a highlight of each plate. Included were wild serviceberries and chokeberries, items that seldom appear outside the Rockies.
It’s fair to imagine that guests lured to The Home Ranch must have a hard time pulling themselves away from the pleasures of the table. The cuisine there is as breathtaking as the scenery in the Elk River Valley that it calls home.