Q&A with Executive Chef Will Nolan

What is your favorite dish to cook?

Grilled Cheese!  My wife and I have a silent grilled cheese battle going whenever one of us cooks grilled cheese sandwiches.  There are many different judging categories; perfect golden- brown crust, proper melting of cheese, pairing of internal ingredients, dips, which mustard, what hot sauce, pepper jelly or sweet preserves.  The list goes on and on!

Our favorite right now is the Tillamook Extra Aged White Cheddar with almond butter, green apple, arugula and Northern California organic pita bread. Bomb!  We came up with this on a camping trip in the red woods.  This is the reason for the gourmet grilled cheese at Nest, truffled grilled cheese at EightK and the Croque at Ricard.

How long have you been in the business?

I have been in the business since I was 14 years old and now I am 42..... so, 28 years!  Wow, first time I have done the math.  I started as a dishwasher/vegetable prep cook & plucking feathers off game birds at hunting camp in upstate NY.  Since then I have worked in Portland, New Orleans, Singapore and Colorado.  All these years in the kitchen has lead me to where I am now....the Executive chef of Viceroy Snowmass with three restaurants, two banquet facilities, off-site catering and a staff of over 30 cooks/chefs and stewards.

Is there a particular type of cuisine that inspires you?

Being from New Orleans (a melting pot of French, Spanish, Italian, Caribbean, etc...), I am inspired by a few different styles of cuisine. French- Creole was the cuisine I was brought up with.  This translates to French techniques of cooking using local Louisiana ingredients and flavor profiles.  This is evident in the menus in our restaurants.  As of lately I have been inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine.  The clean flavors that come from this area of the world make eating exciting and remind me of the bold New Orleans spices.

What do you hope to achieve with your food at Eight K?

I hope to bring something different to the area.  I want to cook food that is bold and exciting.  I have been very fortunate to become involved with the local movement in the Roaring Fork Valley and reap the benefits from the farmers and ranchers.  We have introduced sustainable cooking classes to begin this summer that will be a very fun and educational.

What do you love about the Aspen Snowmass area?

I love Snowmass.  Snowmass is a growing area that offers a wide range of activities and an up and coming food scene.  One of the best things about Snowmass is the proximity to everything I love to do.  During the winter I can literally hop on the hill (thanks to Viceroy’s ski-in/out location) and take a snowboarding or uphill skinning break to clear my head during the busiest times of the year.  Snowmass also has one of the best skate parks in the valley and for an old school pool skater like me; we have the only pool in the area.  Snowmass is laid back and hosts lots of cool events, from Jazz Aspen, Tough Mudder, Wanderlust, Mammoth Fest, Balloon Fest, Wine Festival, Ragnar and of course.... Heritage Fire and the Grand Cochon!  

Do you have a particularly interesting/funny story from your years as a chef?

Oh yes.  One aspect of being a chef which I find amazing is the access you get to everything!  I am mainly speaking of high profile catering events such as concerts or anywhere special access is required.  When we are catering events such as these it blows my mind that we as chefs can have backstage access, skip lines, come and go as we please whenever we want.  I love it.  Maybe I shouldn't divulge trade secrets like this.....oh well.  We deserve it. haha

What’s different/unique about working at Eight K?

Well, I have a couple answers for this. 

-The first is the art of baking.  As the name of our restaurant is reflective of our altitude, EightK or 8000 feet, baking has been the most unique aspect of our cooking.  At this altitude our pastry chef, Ashley Jenkin, has had to perfect her high altitude baking skills.  From bread production to boiling water, altitude plays a heavy hand in our cooking techniques and recipes.

-The second is the diversity of menus I am allowed by having not only EightK but Ricard, catering and Nest.  All of this freedom has enabled me to source as local as possible from the farms in the valley.  For a "hotel chef" to not be bound by corporate mandated menus is a very unique thing and I thank Viceroy for being such a chef driven company.  

How has Aspen influenced your style of cooking?

Attention to local ingredients.  My awareness to the importance of sourcing local has been heavily influenced since I moved to the Aspen Snowmass area.  People like Brook LeVann from Sustainable settings he has taught me the importance of proper farming and treatment of farm animals.  The health benefits are astounding and the products are far superior!