Ask James Ackard, chef at the swank "9545" in the Inn at Lost Creek, how he has weathered the transition from Manhattan to Telluride, Colo., and his face tells it all. "I wasn't sure if I could deal with small-town life," he says, grinning sheepishly. "But I can ski down the mountain to my house, walk the dog and take the lift back up to work." His grin broadens to a smile. "I like it here a lot."
Ackard's "lift" to and from work is the gondola that links the town of Telluride to its Mountain Village. It neatly deposits people just steps from his restaurant. Once there, preconceived notions about rustic ski-town restaurants fall away. Highly polished copper-colored walls are hung with woven wood sculptures. Beaded lights edge a ceiling lightbox that spells out "9545" (the restaurant's altitude). A copper chain curtain sections off the room, and walls of picture windows frame gorgeous views of the San Juans.
When the restaurant opened last winter, Ackard's challenge was to create a style of food that would live up to the setting and fit the locale. It helped to have the support of Drew Nieporent, whose Myriad Group operates the restaurant, along with such nationalhot-spots as Nobu in Manhattan and Rubicon in San Francisco.
Loosely referred to as American-style alpine cuisine, 9545's menu is filled with comforting dishes, such as pan-seared chicken with whipped potatoes, Telluride chanterelle risotto with braised rabbit, and potato-crusted halibut with fresh tomato-basil sauce. A mesquite grill turns out hearty venison filet and Wyoming double lamb chops. Desserts include an Aztec torte with pecan meringue.
Before hooking up with Nieporent, Ackard, 38, worked with Wolfgang Puck at Spago and Eureka in Los Angeles. His food reflects both skill and sensitivity to the tastes of his mountain clientele. "There were expectations that we'd go way over the top with New York-style cuisine," he reflects. "But when people work up an appetite skiing, they want good, honest food-and we give it to them."
This French toast recipe from Anne Marie DeFreest of The Inn at the Round Barn Farm near Sugarbush, Vt., will sweeten your holiday mornings.
Ingredients12 slices Italian bread, 1-inch thick
2 cups egg nog
1 tablespoon vanilla
dash of fresh nutmeg
1 cup crushed corn flakes
assortment of fresh fruit, sliced
Preheat griddle to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and egg nog until well-combined (3-4 minutes). Add vanilla. Strain mixture, then add nutmeg. Dip bread into mixture (do not oversoak) then dip one side of bread into corn flakes. Repeat with all 12 slices. Grease griddle and cook French toast with the corn flake side down first. When golden brown, flip and finish cooking. Place two slices on a plate; top with fruit and Vermont maple syrup. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. Serves 6.