The USA Pro Cycling Tour has finally come to town and I am tagging along for the ride. Many of the boys who had valiantly battled the Alps and Pyrenees just weeks before in a quest for the most coveted title in all of competitive sport, The Tour de France, had finally come back to the beautiful state of Colorado to test their skills, tactics and endurance in America's own Rocky Mountains.
The steel caravan undulates like a slow moving caterpillar piercing golden clouds of sun and dust. Rays of light penetrate my inner thoughts as the sun throws her last illuminations through the dense Aspen groves that crowd the roadway from the tiny enclave of Crested Butte to the vibrant town we all know as Aspen, Colorado. The route is as agonizing as it is stunning. Seated behind the wheel of my trusty silver jeep, bikes securely fastened to the rear hub, I reluctantly joined the group of cars that left town just moments after the riders came screaming up the winding mountain road that lead to the finish line atop Mt. Crested Butte. We all had the same idea, get out of town before it's too late. The race had attracted thousands of frenzied supporters to the bucolic ski area and the one road in-one road out scenario was sure to be a logistical nightmare.
Kebler Pass is certainly the most direct route to Aspen but surely not the easiest to travel. The pass is closed most of the year due to the huge amounts of snow that fall in this region of the Rocky Mountains. On this sun drenched August day she was open for business as long as you had a four wheel drive vehicle -- and vertigo was not on your short list of phobias.
The light came at me as if I were staring straight into an antique movie projector, staccato bursts dancing between the aspen forest's ivory pillars. The mountain trail is more accommodating to covered wagons and horses than a 4,000-pound SUV. The light was blinding and I wished I were on my bike. I was tense, tired and hoping for the end.
While the miles slowly ticked away on the dusty but magnificent mountain pass, my mind wandered through the mesmerizing bursts of light and dark. My legs ached from the early morning bike journey but thoughts of food and travel permeated my mind. To embark on a recipe or dish is like a magnificent journey, following each and every turn and wondering if the destination will be just how the mind imagined it, sometimes yes, often no, but always magical. To embark on a journey is akin to a wonderful mélange of tastes, images and experiences. Or at least that's how I grew up, under the tutelage of a food- and travel-obsessed father and family, but that's a story for another day.
I am the chef and owner, along with my brother Eric, of Blue Ribbon restaurants in NYC and now Las Vegas. We are obsessed with food, travel and the next great meal. My journey is usually about the bike. But after the morning's ride, 20 incredibly tough miles of altitudes over 12,000 feet and numerous bumps, scrapes and bruises, I opted for a more practical and tranquil mode of transportation. The respite in my car also gave me time for reflection and thought. I live to travel. It is in my soul. Alone, with a group, family, whatever; I just live to be out and moving on to the next experience.
The more I see, feel, experience and discover of our humanity and planet, the more fulfilled I become. I suppose that's why I love being a chef so much. I feel that every day in the life of a chef is like a small journey of its own. Spices from Kerala, Tunisia and Iran. Lamb from Vermont and Normandy, tangines from Marrakesh, paella from Spain, fondue from the Haut Savoie.
Every flavor, smell and texture transports me instantly to another place. The smell of slowly simmering veal bones and her rich accompaniment of aromatic vegetable puts my feet firmly in the porcelain clad kitchen of Le Recamier, the restaurant where Eric and I honed our craft, on a quiet little cul-de-sac in Paris' Left Bank. The incendiary blast of pernod and cognac drenching sizzling prawns and garlic transports me the scarred cobbled streets and ornate wrought Iron terraces of New Orleans. Tandori spice and nan bread's just cooked fragrance moves me to the outskirts of Mumbai and her chaotic clamor. To be in the company of smoked fish automatically puts me at the Sunday table with my parents and my brothers eagerly awaiting the spoils of dad's early morning pilgrimage to the local deli.
As I turn off the dusty mountain pass and onto much tamer and more populated roads and the final descent into Aspen, I look forward to sharing my upcoming travels and culinary experiences. I am excited to share my visions and views even if sometimes skewed by an obsession to tastes and flavors and all that keeps me moving on to the next destination, whether it's Zimbabwe, Vegas, South Africa, Kathmandu or just my hometown of NYC. I will journey by car, boat, plane, train and my preferred method of transport, my bike. As for the riders who have led the way and dictated the path that I'm currently following, the finish line is never the end but just the beginning point for the next day's adventure.