Jim Cohen has been a fixture in the culinary scene since the 1980s, when the James Beard Foundation nominated him for Best Chef in the Southwest. Now he brings his love of Colorado to the table at The Empire and Pizzeria da Lupo.
Yellow Scene: What is your personal food philosophy as a chef? How does local food play into that?
Jim Cohen: Back in 1985 when I was a chef at the Wildflower Restaurant at the Lodge at Vail, I discovered a little farmer’s stand in nearby Eagle Vail. The vendor’s name was Ivan, and he had the best produce, all from a number of farmers in his hometown, Palisade—squash blossoms, arugula, etc. I decided to start creating menus around what he was selling. It fits in with my food philosophy: Use great ingredients, keep it simple.
YS: What local produce do you look forward to the most each year?
JC: If I absolutely have to choose one I’d say Colorado peaches. At Pizzeria da Lupo, we’ve roasted them in our pizza oven with honey butter and vanilla, and topping them with pistachios and lemon ice cream.
YS: How has seasonal cooking colored or shaped your menus this year?
JC: We opened less than a year ago, but from the very start, we wanted to use this amazing pizza oven to capture incredible flavor. Right now we’re offering a Munson Farm tomato and corn pizza, and those delicious roasted Colorado peaches.
YS: Winter is always a challenging season for locavores; how do you work around growing restrictions with our climate?
JC: For us, the priority is to buy and offer the best possible food. It is more difficult in the winter, no doubt about it.
Cohen has developed relationships with both Munson Farms and Red Wagon Organic Farms (For his recent Challenging Elements in YS, Cohen used Red Wagon pea shoots).
Red Wagon Organic Farms is a staple at local farmers markets as well as on the plates of numerous restaurants. Working to grow the local food system, Red Wagon produces both common and unusual varieties. Every season means different produce and varieties on the farm, with the ultimate goal of finding the best flavor.