Heritage Fire culinary festival was Saturday in Snowmass Village. The event featured whole-animal cookery over open fires. There’s also a larger purpose: To spread education about local farmers and sustainably raised meat. Arts and culture reporter Christin Kay took a trip from farm to table, or, in this case, farm to fire pit.
Dark clouds loomed in the distance, but impending rain didn't slow down any of the chefs at Heritage Fire. They were serving up pork belly over grits and lamb ribs, and chatting in great detail about the dishes and the products they’re composed of.
A bit further up the mountain, pigs and chickens and even a whole octopus roasted on spits above fires. A butcher demonstrated how to break down an entire 175-pound pig. All of it was geared to show that meat doesn’t just come magically wrapped in plastic at the supermarket.
Brady Lowe, the founder of Cochon555, the organization that puts on Heritage Fire, said he sees the event as a learning experience, disguised as a party.
“It’s like a thousand people going to class,” said Lowe.
And if this is a class, Lowe wants people to learn some delicious lessons about locally raised food.
Once chefs work with the meat showcased at Heritage Fire, they often become proponents of sustainable farming, and the taste of the food is what convinces them.
“This is really just like putting a spark in the chef’s belly or in your belly. When you come to the event, you’re like...'why don’t we cook like this?'” said Lowe.
Rock Bottom Ranch, run by ACES, is one of the local farms that provides meat for the flames of the festival. Director Jason Smith is a former chef himself. He agreed what you find in the grocery store just doesn’t come close to the taste of the food raised here. He gestured to the chickens roaming the pasture.
“These chickens have this beautiful flavor that’s unlike anything else. Most fat in chickens that we see at the grocery store is this kind of white color. Our fat is this dark yellow color, and they’re getting this from the chlorophyll and everything else that’s in the grass that’s in the pasture,” said Smith.
At Rock Bottom Ranch, the pigs, chickens, goats and cows all rotate on different fields, mimicking what’s happened in nature for thousands of years.
“These guys are on pasture every day. And just lead a fairly happy life," he said.
This is quite different from many large-scale farms. In industrial farming, pigs stand on concrete floors, meant to prevent them from digging.
"When we look at that, we see these pigs and they like to dig. Well, we have a lot of property that needs some digging done. The garden, for instance. Let’s let the pig be a pig. Express the pigness of the pig. And they’re gonna dig, and they’re going to disturb, and they’re gonna be a benefit for us. And what’s actually happening at this property is we’re managing land and bacon and pork chops are by-products of our land stewardship," Smith said.
Rock Bottom Ranch only provides products to restaurants within 30 miles. This means fewer carbon emissions from transportation and fresher food.
“We’re able to harvest things at the peak of maturity, and that’s going to really capture that flavor the best, as opposed to a tomato that’s picked green in Florida, put in a truck, gassed with ethanol and ripened as it’s driving across the country to us,” he said.
Brady Lowe, the founder of Cochon555, thinks that, at Heritage Fire, flavor might inspire people to go home and make some changes to their eating habits.
“I don’t want to go to the grocery store and buy some crap meat and then go to this unique, fire experience. I want to...go to the farmer’s market; I want to buy the best possible animal or meat product for me. And I want to enjoy who that farmer is,” said Lowe.
At Heritage Fire, attendees appreciate the farmers and the flavors. Smith’s happy chickens are now grilled and served up over rice.
And as the rain started to fall, it didn't dampen the magic of a few spices and an open flame connecting people with local farmers, and their work for sustainable agriculture.