All-Star Chef Didier Elena Spearheads Food & Wine's Chefs Club Concept
The Food and Wine festival in Aspen is pretty alluring with tales of top chefs, private tastings and bites from the best in the business. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all hop a flight to the quaint tourist town nestled 8,000 feet above Denver for the festival's annual appearance? All sarcasm aside, the food from June's recent festival is somewhat more attainable thanks to a partnership between Chef's Club and Food & Wine, which brings the pages of the magazine to life through their "Best New Chefs" platform and creates a unique dining experience at the St. Regis Aspen.
During the Food & Wine festival, the St. Regis draws global culinary greats to the illustrious property located in close proximity to the festival grounds. But outside of the festival week in June, guests to the hotel or visitors of Aspen can enjoy a matched experience at the Chef's Club restaurant.
Nestled in an airy glass-windowed corner of the hotel, Chef's Club rotates a new seasonal menu collaborated on by the hottest rising culinary stars. Top Chef Masters contestant Sue Zemanick and Iron Chef America winner Viet Pham are among the elite list that have created dishes.
At the helm is Executive Chef Didier Elena who has a 25-year background cooking in some of the most esteemed kitchens from New York to Tokyo. A veteran for decades under Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and Adour, Elena oversees and executes the chef's featured menus over six month periods. He is also spearheading the culinary program that will bring the Chef's Club concept to new locations, including New York City in Spring 2014. We were able to pull Elena away from his executive duties to answer some of our questions for an epicurean exclusive.
JustLuxe: At what point in your life did you decide to become a chef? What influenced you to do so?
Didier Elena: I was very young, about 10 or 12 years old and was born into a family where the food was important and serious, particularly with an Italian grandmother.
JL: If you could give a word of advice to an aspiring chef, what would you say?
DE: Stay curious and try to discover as much as you can about different food cultures and techniques individual to these cultures.
JL: How do you collaborate with the featured chefs at the restaurant in terms of the design, ingredients and plating?
DE: First we invite the chefs to Aspen so they can see the restaurant and experience life in Aspen, as well as see what kind of products we have available in the mountains. From there it is a collaboration in terms of creating a dish reflective of our guest chefs, but also that can appeal to the Aspen audience.
JL: What do you predict as the next big trend in cooking and/or the restaurant industry?
DE: Before, dishes were 70 percent proteins and 30 percent vegetables. Soon it will be the opposite.
JL: Which season do you look forward to the most for its ingredients?
DE: Always fall and spring because for the first, all the mushrooms are available and on the second, vegetables and berries
JL: What places or cities in the world have influenced your cooking the most?
DE: I would say Monaco, where I am from, but my most recent hometown New York always blows me away. It is really representative of the many different food cultures of the world.
JL: In your opinion, what innovation has recently influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way?
DE: This is less of an innovation, but after the recession we saw a dramatic change in the way we cook in the industry with a focus now on farm-to-table cooking.
JL: What makes your position as Executive Chef at Chef's Club by Food & Wine Aspen, with such a recognized name, more unique or challenging?
DE: At Chef's Club there is not just one philosophy, but multiple. We need to embrace each of our Best New Chefs and their individual visions and philosophies to recreate their cuisine at Chef's Club on a daily basis. At any one time this means we are representing at least four talented chefs from around the country.
JL: What is your favorite dish to prepare at home as opposed to the plate you enjoy preparing in the kitchen?
DE: As a father, I like to create dishes that can be put in the middle of the table for everyone to share, like a French beef and vegetable stew like Pot au Feu, or family-style pasta.
JL: Besides gastronomy, what other passions do you have?
DE: Traveling, rugby, wines and champagne.