What happens when you meet up with two chefs and the food and beverage director from the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, Colorado’s largest hotel (1,231 hotel rooms, 82 suites and 133,000 square feet of meeting and event space) on a food journey to find some of the Western Slope’s best growers and food producers? You catch a glimpse of how a large property is dialing into local for groups and leisure travelers and how a food team works together to brainstorm and make buying decisions. Being a foodie myself, it was like living a couple days in another career that I’d probably really enjoy.
Our first matter of business was going on a tour offered by the Palisade Peach Festival that was underway to see the peach sorting, processing and retail operations at Talbott Farms, which also makes juice, cider and hard cider. Next, we visited Suncrest Orchard Alpacas, an alpaca farm, fiber mill and peach orchard, picked and ate incredible peaches at Mt. Lincoln Peach Company (saving one of the largest peaches I’ve ever seen for a batch of peach pancakes the next morning), and watched lavender being distilled and had lunch in a cherry orchard at Sage Creations Organic Farm. The excursion ended with a horse-drawn wagon tour and homemade peach ice cream at Clarks Orchard.
After strolling around the festival booths and enjoying live music at Riverbend Park and heading to my hotel on the eastern edge of Grand Junction (lodging in Palisade sells out quickly during the festival), I reconnected with Director of Food & Beverage Director Chris Clark, Executive Chef Scott Skomal and Executive Sous Chef Nick Gummerson back at Suncrest Orchard Alpacas for one of the festival’s Feast in the Fields with food prepared by Chef Kevin Shields of Kessler Canyon, a great Colorado property for small gatherings, incentive trips and executive retreats in nearby DeBeque. Dining in a peach orchard as the sun started to set was truly spectacular.
A real treat was having breakfast at the guys’ campsite in James M. Robb – Colorado River State Park near Fruita, east of Palisade. Peach pancakes, corned beef hash, peaches sautéed in butter, pastries and granola made by hotel chefs, and two varieties of bacon were on the menu.
We then visited Plum Daisy Kitchen, makers of award-winning Colorado Mountain Jam and private label jams for corporate and social occasions and other companies, like a tea jelly for Davidson’s Organics. The kitchen is located at the jam maker’s own organic plum and apricot orchards, and we sampled many fruit jams along with wine jellies and porter and amber ale Beer Belly Jelly. Yes, beer jelly! Blueberry jam was being made and hand poured into jars as watched and tasted.
Next, it was off to Olathe, located between Delta and Montrose, to savor wonderful cheeses at Rocking W Cheese & Milk, including a wine cheese that is in the experimental stages. I came home with a Portobello leak cheese that is simply outstanding. My time on the tour wrapped up at an Olathe sweet corn farm that was in full swing picking, boxing and selling the golden treat. On the way back to my office and home in Crested Butte, I stopped at a farm stand and operation north of Montrose offering u-pick tomatoes to pick and bring a box home.
How does this apply to groups? My lesson learned was Colorado hotels and chefs are committed to serving local produce and products to create unique experiences and even go to the length of taking a weekend to meet with growers and purveyors and enjoy some fishing and camping on the side. Thank you Chris, Scott and Nick for letting me join in the fun. It’s a trip that I’ll remember throughout the year when savoring the salsa and peach jam that I canned upon return.