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Michelle Obama ate well at Top Chef Kelly Liken's restaurant; you can, too, with this recipe

Kelly Liken
Kelly Liken

It's been a big week for Kelly Liken of Vail's Restaurant Kelly Liken, who was named a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef: Southwest (for the third time) -- and then fed Michelle Obama and three friends over the weekend. Liken recently competed on Top Chef, and Michelle Obama heard about her through White House chef Sam Kass, who judged an episode in which the contestants were told to create healthful school lunches. Liken is as passionate about kid nutrition and the importance of local and organic agriculture as is the First Lady herself, and she'd wowed Kass with her pork carnitas.

The prospect of cooking for the First Lady was both more and less scary than competing on Top Chef. "It was different scary," Liken says, "because to me, she's a role model."

Michelle Obama was "extremely knowledgeable about food and nutrition and the plight of the elementary schools, genuinely interested in what we were doing here with the Growing Seeds program, and passionate about her own Let's Move program," says Liken. And there were also some "lovely comments about our creativity and the freshness of our food."

The inane, derogatory comments that Rush Limbaugh made about the effect of Liken's braised short ribs on the First Lady's figure were far less lovely. But there's a more pressing issue to consider:

Is Michelle Obama a good tipper?

Liken hesitates. "I'm not sure about that question," she says, "but yes, very good."

Although serving the First Lady brought Colorado considerable culinary attention, Liken is particularly delighted at the number of Colorado chefs who've been recognized on the James Beard semi-finalist list -- and she's keeping her fingers crossed that she'll make the short list this time.

Her recipe for the short ribs she served Michelle Obama is already a winner:

Ancho Chile Braised Short Ribs, Hominy and Wild Mushroom Sauté, Tuscan Kale, Braising Liquor

For short ribs (serves 6)

2 lb. beef short ribs

1 carrot, diced

1 onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

½ cup red wine

2 ancho chiles, rehydrated and puréed

1 qt. veal or beef stock

Spice rub (recipe follows)

1.Season the short ribs with spice rub and sear in a large sauté pan over medium high heat until well browned on all sides. Remove to an oven-proof pot deep enough to cover the ribs.

2.Wipe any excess spices from the pan and sauté the vegetables until caramelized. Deglaze with red wine and rehydrated chile paste. Add to short ribs.

3.Add enough stock to cover the ribs, bring to a simmer on the stove top, then braise in the oven at 300 degrees for 4-5 hours or until the ribs are fork tender.

Short rib spice rub

3 T dark chili powder

1 t cayenne pepper

½ t coriander, ground

1 T paprika

1 t onion powder

1 T cumin, ground

1 ½ T salt

2 t black pepper, ground

1.Mix all in a bowl

For mushroom sauté

2 T olive oil

1 cup assorted wild mushrooms

1 cup hominy, cooked

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small shallot, minced

1/2 cup braising liquid from short ribs

Salt and pepper

1.Heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms until tender. Add the garlic and shallots and cook for 1 minute.

2. Add the hominy and braising liquid and simmer until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm until ready to serve.

For kale

2 cups Tuscan kale, roughly chopped and blanched

1 T shallot, minced

1 T butter

Salt and pepper

1.Sauté the shallot in butter until tender; add the kale, heat, finish with salt and pepper.

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