Vail's Savory Inn dishes up more than just relaxation.
I've traveled to Tuscany for prosciutto and Prosecco, London for fish and chips and a pint, and Paris for cassoulet and Bordeaux. I'll drive 200 miles for the perfect turkey crêpe at the Popcorn Wagon in Aspen or snowshoe miles for seared elk medallions at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse outside of Leadville. I'm an unabashed food lover, and my travels often revolve around dining. But it wasn't food that first drew me to the Savory Inn, although the name should've tipped me off. It was the promise of a weekend away in Vail tucked into the log cabin bed-and-breakfast with Ralph Lauren decor and a creek-side view.
When my husband and I checked in a couple of weeks later we were instantly charmed, as much by the knotted pine beams and roaring fireplace as by the smell of garlic sautéing in a hot skillet. The Savory Inn, we quickly learned, is also a high-end cooking school. Like the aroma of garlic, the cooking theme permeates the inn. All 12 rooms are named after spices—Jasmine, Lavender, Cilantro. As we wandered toward our room (Thyme), we snagged a couple of homemade cookies out of the always-stocked jar and poked our heads into the gleaming demonstration kitchen. It was at that moment I realized we were missing out on the true essence of the Savory Inn. The inn offers a spectacular setting and performs beautifully as a B&B. But you're not really tasting the best it has to offer if you're not playing in the kitchen. I vowed then and there to come back.
We spent that particular winter weekend skiing the back bowls, strolling the Village, and people-watching—fueled by the inn's hearty breakfast. Each morning from 8 to 9 a.m. in the sun-drenched dining room, the staff sets out fruit, yogurt, warm muffins, and bottomless bowls of homemade "oatmeal," a soft blend of oats, apples, raisins, coconut, and brown sugar. Add to that the daily special—we enjoyed scrambled eggs with salmon and herbs one day and multigrain pancakes with mixed-berry syrup the next. And when, at checkout, we praised the oatmeal, Mike Campbell, the innkeeper, smiled and immediately handed us the recipe. We headed back to Denver fat and happy. Two years later, we fulfilled my promise by signing up for California Wines and Cuisine with Chef David Nowakowski. After checking in and settling into Cinnamon, a third-floor room with vaulted ceilings, a king-size bed fit with a puffy duvet, and a view of Gore Creek, we headed down to the lobby.
The Savory Inn's cooking classes begin at 6 p.m. sharp, and the intimate setup holds a maximum of 12 people. As students, we perched in tall chairs pulled up to a granite counter, facing Chef Nowakowski. In front of us sat the night's menu, recipes included, and a pencil for note-taking. Nowakowski explained the format: He would teach us how to make each dish, and we would reap the benefits by eating and drinking.
The pending four-course meal began with porcini-dusted scallops over lemon beurre blanc and ended with Meyer lemon tart. The menu also promised a baked goat cheese salad dressed with champagne vinaigrette and pan-roasted Petaluma free-range chicken with polenta and roasted broccolini. Each course was paired with a California wine.
Nowakowski washed diver scallops and arranged them in skillets as we sipped Sauvignon Blanc and discovered that six of our fellow students were from Denver. Of the nine people in the class, my husband and I were the only ones staying at the inn.
Over the next three hours, Nowakowski taught us how to bone a chicken, that the creamiest polenta is made with whole milk, that Meyer lemons taste sweeter than normal lemons and originated in Asia, and that for scallops to caramelize they need plenty of room in the pan. With each course, the wines changed, moving from crisp Sauvignon Blanc to velvety Pinot Noir to plummy Claret, and finishing with a flute of sparkling wine.
At the end of the evening, we sat back in our chairs satiated by the good food and wine in our stomachs—and the recipes to duplicate it all at home in our back pockets. We'd finally done the Savory Inn justice. After a handful of goodbyes, we walked up the stairs to find our bed in Cinnamon, thankful that we didn't have to drive home.
Amanda M. Faison is senior editor and food editor at 5280.