What kind of food goes well with the music of Jackson Browne? If you ask Aspen chef Martin Oswald, he’ll recite a litany of dishes: chamomile steamed halibut, for instance, or venison ragout with crispy gnocchi, or perhaps grilled beef tenderloin with lobster fricassee.
Those are among the dishes that Oswald will be serving on Friday, June 21, when he cooks in the VIP tent at the Jazz Aspen June festival for the 12th year in a row.
During that time, Oswald has steadily elevated the culinary caliber of the VIP experience at JAS festivals, and his cooking has become a staple of the VIP experience, according to JAS Executive Director Jim Horowitz.
As the owner of Aspen’s Pyramid Bistro and the Riverside Grill in Basalt, he’s got a large library of recipes to pull from, and every night during the upcoming festival he’ll present VIP guests with a butler-passed hors d’oeuvres service, cheese station, salad buffet, four live-cooking stations, an entrée buffet and a selection of pastries, including a meyer lemon tart, sticky toffee pudding and huckleberry cobbler, among others.
Oswald says that since he started catering the festival in 2001, he’s been able to measure his success by how much people socialize in the tent before a concert.
“In the beginning, people would just eat something quickly, then head off to see the music,” he recalled. “Now, people show up early, and it’s a social scene there. Each corner of the tent offers something different, and stimulates the way that people socialize. We’re trying to create a social gathering in there.”
Ever since Oswald introduced a live element to the catering in the tent and began featuring dishes made to order, Horowitz said the response from patrons has been strong.
“He does an unbelievable job,” Horowitz said. “When he started these live cooking stations, that was a big change, with the freshness of it and the small plates.”
For each festival, Oswald constructs a mobile kitchen in the tent built around the items on his menu.
At the Labor Day festival in August, he said, “we will do more grilling, I’ll bring in something like 25 feet of grills.”
In an all-you-can-eat atmosphere with so many dishes on offer, Oswald said it can be tough to predict what will be the most popular choices.
“Will they eat 60 pounds of duck and 40 pounds of beef tenderloin?” he said. “It’s a guessing game, but over the years I have learned people’s favorites.”
The scale of Oswald’s festival operation makes it even more complex: Although he’ll feed just a few hundred VIP patrons during the upcoming June festival, Oswald estimates that during last year’s Labor Day festival he fed at least 4,000 people.