Groups have taken to the kitchen for teambuilding and corporate respite for decades. There’s nothing a thoughtful and engaging chef can’t teach to even the most seasoned guests. Take it to another level of intimacy by joining chefs in the fields, on farms and at the forefront of culinary masterpieces.
CHEFS & CHEESEMAKERS
The Last Supper
Rawah Ranch, Glendevey
In June 2016, one of the most popular international “athleisure” brands booked a corporate retreat for 22 brand ambassadors at the remote Rawah Ranch nestled in Colorado’s Big Laramie River Valley. In planning their schedule, the Chicago-based organizer inquired if they could ask attendees about what their dream last meal would be. Then, the ranch’s chef would prepare each meal to specification, served with intricate explanation.
“That’s the thing at Rawah, there’s no limitations on requests from fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to seasoned Cornish hen for BBQ night. We set up the three tables as in ‘The Last Supper,’ but in a horseshoe shape. Then we delivered each meal, one by one, per the guest’s request using locally sourced meat, poultry, fish and produce whenever possible,” explains chef Ford Martin. “I had one guest who wanted breakfast, so I prepared a frittata, pancakes, hash browns, sausages, bacons, fruit parfait, etc. Another final meal was a buffalo rib eye steak, another one wanted a buffalo burger, there was an elk loin request, snow crab, sushi, and everything in between.”
These exceptionally personalized meals became the centerpiece of the evening with attendees explaining why they choose it and how they felt eating his or her particular food. Chef Ford chuckles, “I actually only had to prepare 21 meals; two people ordered lasagna for ‘The Last Supper!’”
Boulder County Farmers Market & St Julien Hotel & Spa
As part of its new à la carte lifestyle menu, meeting groups can tour one of Colorado’s largest and best-known farmers markets in downtown Boulder on Saturday morning (inseason) with Executive Chef Laurent Mechin of Jill’s at St Julien Hotel & Spa. Up to 10 guests can meander through the booths and talk with Mechin, farmers and purveyors about what to look for in ripe produce, what goat cheese pairs best with Colorado wild mushrooms, or how to best incorporate asparagus in early summer.
Mechin then takes groups back to Jill’s with their baskets full of freshly procured items and has participants help cook a meal under his tutelage, using the ingredients everyone selected at the market. All courses can be accompanied by local wine and craft beer.
The Goat Cheese Lady
Don’t even bother with the kitchen, go straight to the barn and book a class with The Goat Cheese Lady, a master goat farmer, cheesemaker and cheesemaking instructor. “Classes are typically four people, but we do customized group classes as well for up to 12 participants. The Young Life grant writing team came down [from Colorado Springs] for a team-building experience last year; we had them partake in each step, and it keeps them busy!” says Lindsey Aparicio, aka The Goat Cheese Lady.
Going on a farm tour, milking the goats, collecting eggs, making honey whole wheat bread, and soft goat cheese and mozzarella with fresh goat’s milk were among the many hands-on activities. Participants also indulged in a farm-fresh brunch and were sent home with a 4-ounce bottle of goat milk lotion, a bar of goat milk soap and a tube of goat milk lip balm—all made on the farm.
REALITY TV REIGNS SUPREME
Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa
“Iron Chef” competitions have swept across the state both in terms of availability and popularity. On the Western Slope, Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa offers an Iron Chef Challenge, quite similar to the Food Network Channel’s version, and provides each team with a recipe book and one hour to prepare three courses and present them to the rest of the group and a panel of judges. The resort can accommodate groups of up to 50 guests.
Located on the Metropolitan State University of Denver campus, SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown is attached to the school’s Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center, a 28,000-squarefoot educational facility that combines class rooms with interactive laboratories. The hotel’s version of “Iron Chef” includes a trivia challenge with teams able to rack up points to spend on ingredients for creating an assigned food or beverage. A professional chef then leads a demonstration and unleashes the teams to build their own perfect appetizers, for example, within a 20-minute time limit. A panel of culinary pros selects the top chefs. Menu choices might include bruschetta, street tacos, cannoli, cocktails and more, and groups of up to 238 can be accommodated.
This format was also a huge highlight of the inaugural holiday season for Uncorked Kitchen. The unique customization options of the space have led to some memorable events. One such event treated a group of 45 from Jet Linx to a three-hour, hands-on cooking and dining experience, in which guests worked together to create a gourmet threecourse meal. Katherine Hartzler, vice president of finance for Jet Linx Denver, attended and helped organize the event. “It was such a positive social event” says Hartzler. “Some of our guests really were involved with the cooking while others—myself included—enjoyed wandering from station to station and talking to each chef, helping, socializing and learning some great food preparation tips … It felt like a warm, large family kitchen.”
Another corporate event added a 30-minute cocktail experience in the wine bar and a mixology demonstration before the cooking and dining segment. Guests prepared a menu with crab cakes; beef rib eye; cranberry, squash, and arugula salad; and chocolate truffle cakes with raspberry coulis and crème anglaise. Uncorked Kitchen also offers “Iron Chef”- style cooking competitions, complete with chef instructors, judges and a secret ingredient. “This is the perfect style of event for groups looking for a fun, new team-building experience,” says Katie Robbins, co-owner of Uncorked Kitchen.
Uncorked Kitchen can host groups of 10 to 50 for a variety of culinary and teambuilding programming.
“We give the chefs one ingredient they must use in an appetizer. Then, they will prepare the dish—enough for everyone to taste—and the audience chooses the winner,” explains Director Abby Reilly. Our room seats up to 120 people, so this becomes a popular inclusion as a first course to a banquet-style evening.” To change it up, Cooking School of Aspen calls its version Food Fight and even arranged for one as an after-party to an event this past December.
“After the dinner, we had drink specials and turned our space into more of a bar/ party space with a DJ. We had two chefs in the kitchen, and their secret ingredient was duck. Guests got tastes of each dish, and we had a panel of judges to determine the winner.”
Learn the basics of building a perfectly balanced charcuterie board and gain insider tips from The Nickel’s chef team—Sean Stengel, Russell Stippich and Chip Travelute—about what to look for in the charcuterie movement. Following an educational download, participants apply their new meat and cheese knowledge to styling an Instagram–worthy charcuterie board. This experience is held in Hotel Teatro’s newest meeting venue, The Study, a beautifully appointed lounge, bar and gathering venue that ideally hosts up to 20.
Echo Canyon River Expeditions
Echo Canyon River Expedition’s signature group program is Battle of the Bighorn, available from May through September and featuring a minimum of three teams partaking in various activities related to rafting. However, when it’s time to eat, let the chef come to you and your group of up to 160 guests!
Executive Chef John Baker says groups can expect a lunch that has a “picnic vibe” with high-end cuisine. Meals typically feature center-cut sirloin steak cooked grilled to order with grilled chicken breast and seasonal vegetables also available. Side dishes might include a Southern-style potato salad, mixed green salad, beans and chocolate chip cookies. Echo Canyon has private property on the Arkansas River where rafts can be tethered so rafters can relax in a hammock or pick apples later in the season.
Delta County is one of Colorado’s most prolific producers of fruits, vegetables, wine and cider. Located in the heart of the North Fork Valley is the granddaddy of them all, Big B’s Delicious Orchards. This oasis of fields, certified organic orchards, a full-service café, wine and cider tasting bar, campground and more has been drawing crowds since 1973.
“We host regular BBQs on Saturday nights in the summer. However, our two biggest shows and evenings are for the Mountain Harvest Festival in late September and the Cider Festival in late October,” notes Lillia McClure-Hartter, director of operations of the growing business.
For those who want the extreme experience from sun up until after dusk, groups of up to 150 can peruse Big B’s u-pick-it orchard during the morning for incredible produce like peaches, apricots, sweet cherries, nectarines, pears, plums, raspberries and grapes. Guests can then dine on-site utilizing Big B’s fullservice catering before a wine and cider tasting in the afternoon and dinner in the courtyards listening to music.
Dining has long been touted as an ideal way for people to converse and exchange ideas. Time has passed, but nothing has changed except perhaps adding a dash of experience and sprinkle of direct chef involvement.