This is part of Restaurant Hospitality's special coverage of the 2012 Food & Wine Classic held in Aspen, Colo., June 15-17.
Robbie Wilson is a successful chef and restaurateur in Nashville, Tenn., operating the four-unit M Street Entertainment Group, but he spent a number of years in Aspen, Colo., where he returned for this years Food & Wine Classic.
He arrived in the mountain resort town in 2001, and opened a restaurant called Conundrum, which he ran until 2003. Then he did a stint in the kitchen of the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., before returning to Aspen, Colo., as executive chef of Matsuhisa in 2006 and 2007. He stayed in the mountain town as a consultant until 2010, when he moved to Nashville, Tenn. There he operates Kayne Prime, a boutique steakhouse, Virago sushi bar, a gastropub named Tavern, and Whiskey Kitchen, which Wilson says is “all about whiskey and a little about food.”
He took some time to chat with Restaurant Hospitality sister publication Nation’s Restaurant News.
Why did you decide to come to Aspen for the Classic?
One, we needed a break; two we have a lot of friends here, and I can parlay the time here between local friends and chef friends who are visiting.
Where should I eat while I’m here?
Usually the best food is in someone’s home. But I always have good luck at the Little Nell.
I heard about a local shop called Johnny Maguire’s Deli. What’s that like?
It’s like narcotic-inspired sandwiches — just crazy combinations. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had marshmallows with bacon. It’s a big local place. A lot of chefs here eat there before their shifts. And down valley there’s some great local food, like Taqueria el Nopal in Basalt. That’s where I always ate when I was here, and there’s a nice Thai place in Carbondale called Phat Thai. When I go out to eat, I don’t want to eat in another chef’s restaurant, I want to go as ethnic as possible.
What are you excited about in Nashville these days?
Finding heirloom and heritage products that have been around for years, but less than a handful of chefs in Nashville are using them. We get these heirloom carrots from Kentucky that are a kaleidoscope of colors. We cook them sous-vide to almost al dente. Then we put fresh tandoori rub on them and blast them in the wood burning oven. When the waft of wood and tandoori rub hits the dining room, everyone says they’ve got to have it. These aren’t little baby carrots, they’re great big carrots that my grandparents would have eaten, and in the restaurant people eat them with a knife and fork.
At what restaurant is that?
Kayne Prime. It’s a steakhouse, but we don’t try to be defined by meat there. My favorite thing to do when eating at a steakhouse is share a piece of great meat, and then destroy the sides, because they’re the best part of the meal. We do a creamed corn crème brûlée with roasted jalapeños, and crab fries that we make by dehydrating crab demiglace, mixing that with Old Bay seasoning and then dusting French fries with that.
A version of this story appears at Restaurant-Hospitality.com sister site NRN.com.