There is a cookbook in the works at Café Aion. Dakota Soifer, the chef and owner at the Boulder restaurant, has partnered with two good friends, Andy Wellman of Greener Grass Publications and Caroline Treadway, a freelance photographer, to create a cookbook that represents the food and cooking philosophy behind this two and a half year-old eatery located on the Boulder University Hill.
The Café Aion cookbook will be divided in four chapters, each comprised of a wide selection of seasonally appropriate tapas. There will also be smaller sections on essentials for Café Aion, things like charcuterie, paella, and farming. Recipes will be accompanied by step-by-step photographs, as well as narratives sharing the restaurant's core beliefs. Dakota Soifer, a veteran of the Boulder dining scene, with solid cooking stints at the Kitchen and Meadowlark Farm Dinners, shared his thoughts on the cookbook, the Boulder dining scene, and his experience as a restaurateur.
Why and how did you decide to write a cookbook? Not unlike how Café Aion started, the cookbook was a product of wanting to work with friends on a creative venture. I was out skiing —maybe my issue is that when I have a day off I just end up coming up with more projects— with my friend Andy who owns a publishing company which does mostly rock climbing guidebooks. I think that we do pretty cool thing at Aion, taking a fun, seasonal approach to cooking with a distinct flavor palate. We think that the food we do at Aion, which isn't too fussy but uses a few interesting techniques and flavor combinations, is something that the home-cook would find appealing. Also, our philosophy of sharing tapas and platters translates very well into the home where cooking for family and friends in different sizes for various gathering really seemed to make sense.
When will it be out and what should Café Aion fand expect from it? The cookbook will be out next holiday season. It will be divided into four seasons like the year. Each of the four seasonal sections will have about 20-30 recipes including tapas, shared platters, picklings/preservings, sauces & pairings. The layout will be pretty photo heavy and the book will be 10 by 10. Each recipe will have a series of step-bystep photos. I feel that this is really key in providing the needed information for the home cook to succeed. In addition to the step by step photos, there will be a full-page finished photo. The recipes will come with descriptions on the way we like to serve the dish at the café, suggested substitutions and personal anecdotes. There will also be a few larger more narrative chapters on our core beliefs and philosophies and how they can be implemented at home.
Diners always try to label a restaurant and now you have a cookbook that may get that same treatment—how would you describe the food at Café Aion? Spanish & North African-inspired—a two-fold idea and process. First we craft—a word I like because to me it emphasizes using your hands, no trickery -science experiment stuff and imperfections which like the burnt edges of a roast chicken which are the most beautiful part of cooking to me—ingredients we can source locally with inspiration from those regions. I love the flavors, spices & ingredient palates. Also, I love the eating style - sharing a bunch of small nibbles - tapas or mezze - and larger platters - paella or tagine- between a group as opposed to the more traditional western individual appetizers & entrées!
Café Aion is now open seven days a week— what is the biggest challenge? It is a tie between managing employees and keeping the vibe and creative energy fresh. Cooking is the easy part; finding people who share our philosophy, who are excited to be part of the team and ultimately care is hard. I feel like a momma hen trying to keep all my little chicks happy. The creative part is what is fun. Because we are a small business and I do all the marketing, social media, events, PR, plus momma, er, daddy hen duties, it can be hard to find the time and energy to keep the breakfast, lunch, happy hour, dinner menus fresh and exciting. So when I get to do that, it is really rewarding.
You are on the Hill, an area not always appreciative of a restaurant like yours - if you were to do it all over again, would you come back to this location?
Sadly no. I love the building, We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the design and build-out doing it all ourselves. But the reality is we are a destination restaurant. We are a great neighborhood café, but Boulder is still a small city and there is really one area people think of going out to eat - Pearl Street - not that I'm bitter about it or anything.
How do you build your menu and how do you change it?
The structure and format of our menu has changed quite a bit since we first opened. Originally we just had a list of twenty or so tapas. Then we added larger platters & paellas to share. Now we offer a selection of small mezze, our house-cured charcuterie, as well as the sharable larger items. I try to really listen to what the guests want. When we added the platters we realized that people were coming in to have a full dinner - not just drinks & tapas. The seasons really influence the menu - not just by what is in season and available for ingredients but also the heft, techniques used & style of dishes — braises in the winter, allspice in the fall, fennel in the spring, fresh chilies in the late summer and so on.
Where do you like to eat when you get to go out?
I love making it down to Saigon Bowl off Federal and Alameda in Denver. The Tacos al Vapor truck in Denver is epic! A cocktail at the Bitter Bar is always nice and I've had a few nice meals at Colt & Gray.
Where was your last meal out?
My last meal out was at the Kitchen in Boulder, I had family visiting from out-of-town. We drank some nice wine - it was expensive and fun. I hadn't been there for a long time - funny thinking I used to work there. Pearl Street can really seem like fucking Vegas to me now that I don't make it down there often.
What's next for you and Café Aion?
Aside from the book, at the café, it is the continual process of testing and improving —and dealing with turnover —plus trying not to let the creative process drive me totally nuts and continue to pay the bills. I think we would love to grow - not sure what that will look like but we are learning a lot on our way there.
Dakota Soifer, chef and owner at Café Aion [Photo: Courtesy of Café Aion]