Issue: Spring 2010
Serving Up a Hot Concept: Street Food
Written by Lauren Slaff
Photos by Heather Leavitt
It was no mere coincidence that two of Southwest Colorado’s most celebrated chefs happened upon one another in the cozy waiting area of Durango airport.
“Where ya’ goin’?’’
This November, the country’s most prestigious culinary school, the Culinary Institute of America (C.I.A.), hosted its 12th annual “Worlds of Flavor” conference, described as “a three-day, sauce-slopping, noodle-slurping, chaat-sampling, kabob-nibbling, tamale-savoring, tapas-grazing epic tour of the best of world street food and world comfort food!” Reflecting the intersection of recessionary budget and the ongoing embrace of a culture of informal, casual food and dining, the “Street Food” concept increasingly defines how Americans want to eat.
“Street Food?” you ponder, as you entertain thoughts of soggy hot dogs, skewers of mystery meat and other unmemorable, and often questionable, fare served with a complimentary side of rude out of a rickety cart. Once simply considered cheap grub for busy working class folks on the go, street food is now the hottest gastronomic concept sweeping our foodie nation. Like swanky Hollywood nightclubs with addresses only available to those fashionable enough to be in the know, carts and trucks slinging amped-up versions of affordable, classic standards are the place to see and be seen, found only by social media junkies dialed in to the right “tweets.” Go figure!
A couple years ago, lucky enough to be invited to a well-attended New York City charity potluck, I landed among some of the most highly regarded culinary professionals in the biz. I had the serendipitous pleasure of chatting with the dude who many consider to be the father of this sweeping trend. Adam Perry Lang graduated from the lofty C.I.A. and built his skills in the most renowned kitchens of New York and Paris. A self-described “nice Jewish kid from Long Island,” he turned his focus to his passion for southern barbeque, winning copious national competitions; and thus began the elevated street food revolution with his popular Daisy Mae BBQ carts. When I sleepily arrived the following day for my kitchen-peon gig at one of the area’s trendiest and most innovative high-end restaurants, I recounted my evening and was regaled with stories of my superiors’ dreams of taking their lofty skills and following in Adam’s street-savvy footsteps.
And so the story goes that the two traveling chefs from Durango are each, in their own unique style, parlaying their classical training and fine-dining prowess, combined with inspired ingenuity, into serving up this hot concept right here in SW Colorado. Meet — if you haven’t already — Michel Poumay and Sergio Verduzco.
After deciding to close his third upscale Colorado French restaurant, Chez Grand-mčre, the charming (ooh la la, that accent!) Michel Poumay has realized his dream of getting out of the kitchen and onto the streets with his playful Wild-West-meets-Gay-Paree crępe cart on the bustling corner of College and Main. At the aptly named “Michel’s Corner,” Poumay no longer stresses over perfect plating and gratuitous garnishing; instead he whips up made-to-order, inventive crępes served in a pink paper sack with an extra helping of friendly. After much success cooking classic French, including his traditional Aspen cręperie, Michel is having way too much fun taking the Southwest by the horns, filling his delicate, crispy bundles with very un-classically Franco fillings like slow-cooked pulled pork and fragrant, complex chicken mole. Not your grand-mčre’s crępes! Poumay revels in the familiar pleasure of intimate interaction with customers of all demographics that his concept now bestows upon him. When a curious local student approached his window and inquired about “these crepe things,” Michel humorously compared it to a “French tortilla,” extolling the subtle, delectable differences and winning yet another fan of his addictive street treats.
Sergio Verduzco, the enigmatic, energetic C.I.A.-trained, Mexican-born chef owner of Durango’s East by Southwest is no stranger to conceptual dining, infusing his Latin world flare with traditional Japanese cuisine. Verduzco is in the process of opening his upscale yet rustic Southeast Asian venue, The Golden Triangle. To prepare, he traveled to Thailand where he “was immediately blown away by the incredible diversity of the street food. It is a virtual kaleidoscope of smells, textures and exotic ingredients, driven by an awesome sense of entrepreneurship.” Bringing his lessons back home, he will be presenting time-honored street dishes set in an elegant, clubby backdrop, anchored by an open kitchen featuring a wood-burning grill. Another imaginative approach to this playful juxtaposition brought to life by a true devotee of deliciously blurring culinary boundaries.
Whether taking the flavors and techniques of fine dining to street level or bringing exotic, yet accessible, world-inspired street grub to a posh venue, we are all blissfully swept up in this booming concept … even right here in sometimes-sleepy, always-majestic Southwest Colorado. No “Twittering,” no secret password, and definitely no pretensions. Just hearty appetites, open minds and what we all share with conceptual pioneers like Michel and Sergio … bold, adventurous spirits.
Located at College and Main Avenue in Durango, Michel’s Corner offers sweet and savory crępes 6-7 days a week from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (hours may vary). Call Michel at (970) 247-7979 for daily specials and small catering needs. Visit his online menu at http://michelscorner.com.
The Golden Triangle, 150 East College Drive in Durango, plans to open in March and will offer dinner daily from 5 p.m. and lunch Monday through Saturday. Live DJs play until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and until 2 a.m. at the monthly Full Moon parties. Children’s menu, catering and takeout available.
A native New Yorker and grateful transplant to Southwest Colorado (think Sex and the City meets Into the Wild), Slaff brings the ideal combination of high-end professional training and heartfelt passion for the fruits of the earth to her students and clients as chef / proprietor of verypersonal*chef. Visit http://www.verypersonalchef.com or email Lauren@verypersonalchef.com.
Author's Email: email@example.comLauren@verypersonalchef.com
Photographer's Email: firstname.lastname@example.org