A banner hanging outside Sunrise Sunset, which I review this week, proclaims, "We serve only Colorado farm-fresh eggs." This got me thinking about eggs, because in the hundreds of conversations about sourcing I've had with chefs over the years, no one has ever waxed poetic about eggs. Local produce? Yes. Local meats? You bet. But eggs? Crickets.
How often have you seen a menu touting an egg by name, like Tender Belly bacon or Jumpin Good Goat Dairy feta, with the surcharge that would go along with it? The fear, of course, is that customers -- not the chickens that came first -- might cross the road to a restaurant on the other side. See also: Behind the Scenes at Sunrise Sunset
Some restaurants, however, do treat eggs as more than the butt of a joke. At The Kitchen, where sourcing has always been a priority, eggs have been known to receive marquee treatment. "If we have a dish with a soft-poached egg or an egg on a pizza, we'll always notate which farm it comes from," says Kyle Mendenhall, executive chef for the Kitchen restaurants. Their eggs come from a variety of farms, including Wisdom Farms in Haxtun, Cure Organic Farm in Boulder and Monroe Organic Farms in Kersey.
At Potager, nothing less than pastured eggs are cracked for the restaurant's ice creams, crème brulee and signature twice-baked souffles. And that's not just because of qualities appreciated by the kitchen, such as bright orange yolks and thick whites. To Jayne Yelich, baker and front of the house manager, it's just as important to buy "eggs locally and from a farmer that we know, where the chickens are fed well and have access to the outdoors," she says. That's why the 25 dozen eggs that Potager goes through a week are sourced from Cottonwood Creek Farms in Merino. "They're happy chickens," she adds.
Eric Skokan, chef-owner of Black Cat Bistro and Bramble & Hare, goes one step farther. In addition to farming nearly 200 acres of soon-to-be-certified organic crops, and raising turkeys, steer, geese, hogs and sheep, he maintains a flock of about a hundred laying hens. "Our yolks are ... super, super dark orange. When you make a fried egg, you can see it," he says, adding that "they're healthier and better for you, and they taste great." In summer, Skokan sells the pastured eggs at farmer's markets. In winter, hens lay fewer eggs because there's less daylight, but he still ends up with a lot of eggs, given the size of his flock. With farmers' markets on hiatus until spring, he finds ways to use them that far exceed omelettes and ice cream, like heirloom bean and pork ragout stewed with chiles and a poached egg on top, or celery root flan with caviar and shaved truffles.
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Given the scale of his operation, it's not surprising that Skokan takes the long view, seeing eggs as more than high-quality ingredients or even as products of happy birds. "Our hens get vegetable scraps from the farm," he says. "Hens are our composting system. Other restaurants pay for that, but that's how we build soil."