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Mark Fischer Bringing Team to James Beard House in NYC

Mark Fischer
Mark Fischer
Photo: James Beard Foundation

Chef and restaurateur Mark Fischer has created a mini restaurant empire in the mountains and Denver, first with Phat Thai in Carbondale, and subsequent spots the Pullman in Glenwood Springs, Harman's Eat & Drink in Denver, and Carbondale's Town.

He's earned several nominations for Best Chef Southwest from the James Beard Foundation over the years, traveling to New York City's Beard House in 2001 to cook. Fischer will return on October 15, this time with the chefs from each of his establishments. Eater spoke with Fischer about the upcoming trip and how he and his crew are preparing for the prestigious event.

How did this dinner come about? We've enjoyed a pretty long relationship with the Beard House. I think we did our first dinner in 2001. That was our first trip to New York City, but we've participated in a number of events over the years with the organization in different shapes and forms. So the dialogue has always been an ongoing thing, and the discussion always seems to circle back to, "Would you like to come back to the Beard House and cook?" Life happens and it gets difficult to get things scheduled on a regular basis, but here we are full circle 13 years later, and we thought it would be a good opportunity to take all our chefs to New York and cook in the Village.

It's somewhat unique to bring your chefs along too. How do you plan to maximize that experience? You know, I get to spread the labor a little bit better. The last trip to the Beard go and you take whatever staff you can from one restaurant, and everybody operates on a skeleton staff and it's usually rushed, and you don't get to enjoy the whole experience. At least this trip, it will be great given the fact there's four restaurants to draw talent from. We'll be able to go and enjoy the whole dog-and-pony show and spend some time in the city, and enjoy the process rather than just making it sort of a catering gig that's a couple thousand miles away. And certainly the guys that do all the heavy lifting for us that are listed on the roster, not many of those guys get to spend that much time in New York City, so it's super awesome to be able to share that with them.

Walk me through the process of developing the menu with the other chefs. I just put it out there, that each of these guys should promote or propose a dish from their restaurant, whether it be something signature or something they're excited about, the sky's the limit. The menu that you see published, I'll be surprised if that's the one we actually cook. The timeline for these things is just so far out, and the way we cook is so far removed from that, I'll be shocked if that's the menu that gets cooked. All these guys are still pretty pumped about it and they're still thinking about something they'd like to cook, whether it's new or something they've done in the last couple weeks. So I don't know how it's going to look, to be truthful. That's just based on the way we cook at the restaurants. We change the menus on a pretty regular basis, so we'll see. Planning the menus is the easy part, sort of, in the sense that there's a shit-ton of ideas out there, I just don't know which ones are going to make the final cut.

Is there anything in particular you're hoping to convey about the Colorado food scene to the diners with your menu? That it's as good, if not better, than anywhere else in the country. I think for a long time Colorado suffered that bad rap, or it wasn't really a bad rap but it just felt ignored, so the city's kind of possessed by a collective sort of inferiority complex. But you know, Denver's got it going on. The food here is as good if not better than anywhere else in the country or the world. I never really thought about our trip as being something so important to the state. From my perspective, I'm just taking guys that bust their asses for me every day on a trip that should be super cool.

While you're out there, do you have any must-go restaurants in mind or plans to celebrate after the dinner? Everybody in the company's got restaurants that they want to go to. It's about fitting as much in as possible. That short list, it's a work in progress. There's certain restaurants that I think get it, and always will get it, and are institutions, and I tend to favor them every time we go. Gramercy Tavern comes to mind, any Danny Meyer restaurant for that matter. I think that guy and that group is still the yardstick we measure ourselves against. Everybody else has their own ideas of where they need to eat, so the question is, how many meals can we eat in a day over the course of six days? The number is pretty daunting.

What do your preparations entail leading up to going? At this point, as we kind of zero in on a menu, it's a question of reaching out to resources in New York City, whether it's chefs we have relationships with, connecting with purveyors. Logistically, cooking at the Beard House the most daunting thing is just getting it done in a day. But thankfully, the way the schedule works for us, we have access to the kitchen there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and our dinner is Wednesday night; there's no other events in the two days prior. So we've got access to the kitchen and can cook for three days. Depending upon how the menu plays out, we may ship some stuff out. The goal here is as much to take all the boys to the city as it is to cook a badass dinner. So whatever we can do to maximize both is the goal. Right now it's just an issue of getting our ducks all in a row so we can pull this dinner off with just three days of prep, in between meals. That's what we want.

Is there an aspect that makes you nervous? How do you overcome it? Any time we cater, I get really nervous. It's like an away game—strange stadium, anything that can go wrong will. So developing those resources and just reconnecting with guys we know in the city and saying, "Hey, we're coming out. Can we call you if we need you?" It's really the meat of the issue. There's a pretty deep roster of talent in New York City that is from here. So I feel pretty fortunate there's that depth of resources that can cover our asses if the wheels come off.

What are you looking forward to the most? Spending the week in the city with all our chefs, and being able to hang out in that sort of environment away from each of their respective restaurants. I think many of the guys have never been to the city, which is even cooler. Being able to share this with them is pretty much the driving, motivating force behind it all. It's rare that we ever get to hang out outside of the restaurants, ever, let alone a couple thousand miles away.

· Ryan Leinonen of Trillium Heads to the Beard House [EDen]
· Chefs Headed to Devil's Thumb for James Beard Dinner [EDen]
· Five Chefs, Five Squash Courses: One Dinner at Harman's Eat + Drink [EDen]

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