Flashing a smile as bright as the stainless steel in her kitchen at dish restaurant in Edwards, Chef Jenna Johansen is as excited to teach as her 10 students are eager to learn. “Food is about sharing,” she says from behind the counter as she places her knife blade “30 degrees” on the sharpener, sliding it from end to end in preparation for slicing and dicing. “When food brings people together, it’s very special.”
Very special, indeed. We all have just come from the first bonding activity of this girlfriends’ weekend — an hour’s yoga practice at Dogma Athletica — so our body/mind connection needs only food to balance the yin and yang. We gather closely around two tables, completely engaged in discovering new tips and techniques before indulging in our meal.
Jenna does not disappoint. Creating classic flavors from fresh seasonal ingredients is her forte. After training at Johnson & Wales University in Vail, Jenna worked in Tuscany for a year. Much of what she learned in Italy she passes on to her students. This fall day her menu includes breast of chicken flavored with lavender (yes, the flower) placed atop butter lettuce dressed with Chèvre vinaigrette. Her killer Tiramisu ties up lunch with a bow.
For the dressing, Jenna uses high-quality red wine vinegar, which, she says, makes the difference between a great and an amazing salad dressing. She mixes all ingredients with the cheese in a food processor, and then slowly adds the oils in a steady stream to form an emulsion that evenly coats lettuce leaves.
The wet marinade (as opposed to a dry rub) starts with fresh lavender and is enhanced with mustard, garlic, orange zest, honey (“always buy locally if you can”) and a splash of Champagne or white wine. The oil base should be extra virgin olive oil. We taste samples of medium- and high-quality oils, and the latter — deep green in color and tasting pungent and peppery — clearly is richer than the medium quality. Keep garlic in cold water in the refrigerator for easier peeling, she says, or buy cloves already peeled. Avoid using a garlic press.
To sear the marinated poultry, Jenna starts with a “rippin’-hot pan” to avoid sticking. She pours just enough oil to coat the pan lightly, and uses tongs to turn the pieces.
Pastry chefs everywhere seem to have their own version of Tiramisu, which means “Pick-Me-Up” in Italian. Jenna’s is truest to the original and the best I’ve ever eaten. Her secrets: organic eggs from free-range chickens (“a huge difference in quality and flavor”), fresh mascarpone cheese, high-quality strong coffee and Savoiardi Italian ladyfingers. (Recipe below)
Learning Jenna’s tips and tricks is like finding a powder skier’s secret stash. “I love seeing the A-Ha look on your faces,” Jenna says. “That’s why we try to keep these classes small. We like to individualize the experience.”
After lunch, we browse in eat! drink!, the wine and specialty foods store below the restaurant, named one of the five greatest new boutique wine shops in America. It offers more than 500 wines and 100 artisan cheeses, as well as other unusual food and kitchen items. We recognize goodies that overflow from the welcome basket in our luxury digs at The Pines Lodge in Beaver Creek Village.
The next morning we devour an amazing brunch at dish, fueling us for a hike in the fall colors touched by a light early dusting of snow on Beaver Creek Mountain.
“This weekend was a wonderful opportunity to connect with my best girlfriend while doing two things I love to do — challenge my body and pamper my palette,” says Beth Sharp of Breckenridge.
The package rate starts at $1,350 per person, double occupancy, and also includes three nights lodging at the Inn at Beaver Creek, a two-day lift ticket for Vail and Beaver Creek, complimentary daily breakfasts and a four-course gourmet lunch at Trapper’s Cabin. Add-on activities are optional. Information: 800-859-8242; vbcrp.com.
Chef Jenna’s Classic Tuscan Tiramisu
4 large eggs (free range organic), separated
8 oz. fresh mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup sugar, granulated
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
8 oz. strong coffee or espresso made in a French press and allowed to sit
8 oz. Savoiardi ladyfingers (biscuit style)
Kahlua and/or rum, to taste — suggest 1 oz. each to 8 oz. coffee
Mix yolks and sugar, add to mascarpone until smooth. Beat whites until stiff; fold into mascarpone mixture. Whip cream; fold into mixture. Add alcohol to coffee, cool slightly. Dip biscuits briefly in coffee; place in pan, alternating layers of cream and biscuits. Let sit in refrigerator for one hour.
Colorado native Claudia Carbone is an award-winning ski and travel journalist and the author of the book “Women Ski.” She writes for local, national and international publications.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.