A Taste of Autumn

Chefs prepping their kitchens for those hearty winter meals

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— Although Steamboat is experiencing unusually warm weather and blue skies in the first part of fall, chefs in the Yampa Valley are looking ahead to a change in their cuisine for the next six months.

Peter Lautner probably won't be cooking any blackberry tarts for the fall because berry season has come to a close.

"We get fruit from Chile in the winter. It looks good, but it doesn't taste good," Lautner said. "There's a demand, but it's more for plate presentations."

Lautner, co-owner and chef of Cottonwood Grill, said squashes are in and berries are out. Spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg can be found in mole dishes, but butternut squash and even zucchinis become a more popular vegetable.

"We go into more comfort food," Lautner said of certain vegetables, stews and soups.

Although his menu doesn't turn to such a French cuisine, Lautner said people begin to yearn for the foods that can easily satisfy them.

Lautner said cooking with harvest fruits such as apples and pears become increasingly popular, as well as many game animals such as lamb and elk.

"Seafood is more of a year-round thing," Lautner said. "But we'll do things with a lot of nuts and crusts."

Lautner said almost anything could be crusted with nuts fish, meat or even cheese.

Although he couldn't think of many spices that are more common around fall, herbs are available year-round also.

"With all the growing technology, you can get anything now," Lautner said.

Jacques Wilson, executive chef at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort for six years, said the feeling of fall brings people to cook certain foods because of memories that bring them back to a certain time and place.

"When the colors change and the temperature gets colder, people start to reminisce about the smells," Wilson said. "This time of year people want homey-type meals. It's a slow times of year for people."

Wilson said the Sheraton modifies its menu twice a year. During the fall and into winter, Wilson said he would be cooking a lot more with crockpots, or one pot cooking. This includes stews, hearty soups and chilis.

"People want food that gears them up for winter, but isn't quite there yet," Wilson said of winter foods such as pot roasts of wild game or beef and shepherd's pie.

The Sheraton will continue with a chicken potpie, which was popular last year, and a chicken matzo ball soup. But this year, Wilson said he's going to bring out a shepherd's pie.

It may be that people want heartier meals with more fat because they want to stay warm with an extra layer for the winter; however, Wilson said people in Colorado surely would burn it right off.

But with cheese items making a resurgence, that extra layer may be a little harder to burn. Wilson said cheese is coming back into style, especially in larger cities.

"I'm going to add it to the dessert menu here as opposed to putting it on the menu. It will be an alternate to dessert," Wilson said.

Items that become popular again in the fall are apple and pumpkin pies, as well as cobblers.

Many people who want an activity indoors while it's dumping snow outside may find that breadmaking has become quite popular.

"Breads such as banana, zucchini or pumpkin or the yeast-made products like soft rolls, wheat bread and white bread," Wilson said.

Sheraton will also add bread bowls filled with stews, gumbos and hearty soups.

Although cups and bowls of the infamous clam chowder will not leave the menu at the Chart House, some menu items will change, manager Dave Willoughby said.

The restaurant may add things like a parmesan and ginger-crusted halibut with butternut squash and continue to beef up the seafood and fish selection, he said.

"We're going to slow down a little and I'd like to do a little fall menu change to get locals in a little bit more," Willoughby said. "Locals are such a big part of the business."

People may see a larger Asian influence in many dishes, but the prime rib still will be delectable.

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