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Bite Me

Being There

Moscatello will follow the salmon with anise-seared turbot and lobster-stuffed potato cannelloni with pea-tendril salad (I didn't even know peas had tendrils); a rabbit-stuffed onion ring capping a plate of sautéed asparagus, sweet shallots and summer truffles; lavender-skewered quail on white grit cake with apricot marmalade; roast Sika deer (medium-sized Japanese critters -- taste just like chicken) over chanterelle mushrooms and English peas in a sweet sherry reduction; pave d'auge (a kind of soft milk cheese -- tastes just like chicken) aux brioche with white peaches; and a goat-cheese chiffon and pepper-macerated strawberries -- such a great goddamn way to end a meal like this that I'm pissed I never thought of it.

After that? For Moscatello's sake, hopefully a round of applause, a cold beer at the hotel bar and a solid night's sleep, because he certainly isn't going to be getting much sack time in the days leading up to the dinner. Cooking at the Beard House ain't all champagne and Bundt cake. There are a million potential disasters to fret about.

"You know they don't pay for any of this, right?" Ian Kleinman asks when I sit down with him to get the Beard House scoop. "You've got to get everything yourself -- all the food, all the wine -- and then you've got to get it all there. When they asked me to come the first time, I seriously took out a second mortgage on my house to pay for it. But what was I going to say? No? No way...."

One of the biggest hurdles for any chef is getting all the food and wine to the Beard House. This time around, Ian and his dad had some help getting themselves there from their respective employers, but no one kicked in anything to ship the seventy macadamia-nut-crusted lamb chops that they'd prepared back in Denver. No one was sourcing that Legerski Farms smokehouse bacon for them; when they wanted the absolute best product to go with their quail-eggs Benedict with miso hollandaise, they had to find it themselves. And pay for it themselves, which still didn't discourage them from making citrus-crusted lobsters in a blood-orange beurre blanc, topped with caviar.

"You beg," Ian says. That's how the game is played. You visit every purveyor in town, explain that you're going to the James Beard House and that you need a break. You try to get the stuff free first -- trading one night's product for a mention in the press of who was there for you in your moment of need. When that tactic (inevitably) fails, you try to get your ingredients below cost. Then at cost. And when that doesn't work, you start all over again.

After you've got your suppliers set up and all the necessaries tucked away in the coolers, you start to prep. In your off time (which is minimal for any chef successful enough to be invited to the Beard House in the first place), you start making those things that absolutely cannot be made in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar tools. For Ian, this was the seventy portions of orange gelato for his baked Santa Fe dessert. It was the smoked buffalo tender. It was a half-dozen other items that he couldn't make outside of his own galley at Indigo.

And then, you trust all of this -- thousands of dollars' worth of produce and hours and hours of work -- to the fine people at UPS or Fed Ex. Or you can take your chances with the DIA baggage handlers. Which Ian did -- delicately packing all of his bacon and $2,500 worth of knives along with his socks and chef coat. Luckily, everything he absolutely, positively had to have there overnight got there like it was supposed to. He was fortunate; other chefs haven't been.

"If something goes wrong, the Beard House has purveyors they work with who can get you stuff at cost," Ian says. "But think about it. You've probably already spent every dollar you have just getting there."

Ian and his father did their night-before prep work in the kitchen of the Metropolitan Hotel, where they were staying. They spent hours sorting through freezer boxes, cutting, boiling and grinding out honeydew ice for seventy bowls of yellow watermelon soup. At five the next morning, they went over to the house that Beard built.

"It was amazing, man," Ian says. "I mean, these were his pans. This was his stove."

And in his tiny, ten-by-twelve kitchen, Ian spent the longest day of his career. And not two days later -- long before he had recovered from his exertions leading up to the meal -- the Beard House called to ask if he'd do it all again.

"I said yes, of course," Ian tells me, laughing just a little. "I mean, what was I gonna say? No?"

Leftovers:The oddly named but undeniably Eastern European California Bakery(909 South Oneida Street), which blew me away with its zabaglione and piroshkis, is onto something new: pizza. Yup, it's now a one-stop shop for Russian loaves, exotic pocket breads, continental pastries and a nice 'za. There's still nothing on the list that makes me think of California, but a persistent rumor has the place soon expanding to include a sit-down restaurant. Maybe it'll be Denver's first Napa-Bulgarian fusion operation....

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