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Located a block from Main Street in Ouray, the Saloon is a 132-year-old dame that recently received a new lease on life. This stately hotel was originally built in 1891 and has enjoyed many decades of housing guests under different ownerships. The hotel, which was operating as a boarding house, was purchased by Zeppelin Development in 2020, and over a three-year period, renovated to its current refined grandeur.
Now open, the Western offers 16 guest suites, a soon-to-be-opened spa, and Colorado-inspired cuisine from Nic Weber, executive chef of the property’s Saloon.
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Weber—who has worked at various restaurants across the country, including with the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group and at Mercantile Dining and Provision in Denver, at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas, and at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco—leads the charge on bringing heritage ingredients and techniques to the Western. Entrenched in the kitchen, Weber faces the seven seats at the Saloon’s chef’s counter and espouses the merits of Anasazi beans, Ute Mountain blue cornmeal, and other local and Indigenous ingredients. Behind him, the open-hearth blazes as pots, pans, and skillets are shaken, shimmied, and shifted to locations above the wood fire.
“When I left Denver and traveled around, one of the places I was at was Atelier Crenn,” Weber says. “One of the things that I really liked about [the chef’s] menu [there] was that the menu wasn’t really a menu. It was a poem: Each line of the poem correlated to the dish. I thought that was an interesting approach for presenting your food. At the end of the day, the food is just the vehicle for the story we’re trying to tell.”
Weber says he realized the importance of a connection to the land growing up next to the Barona Indian Reservation near San Diego, California, where his family has roots. (Weber says he is 1/16 Native American.) There, while attending events like powwows, he learned from tribal members about living off the land, using plants for medicine, and other connections between the earth and food.
When Weber made his way to Gateway, Colorado, to work at the Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa in 2020, he mingled with anthropologists, geologists, and historians who told the stories of the land through their various disciplines. With those resources, he dove into the history of the region, learning about the Ute tribes and the Ancestral Puebloans, whose descendants still live in the Four Corners area.
“I’ve always kind of felt that the Western Slope itself was an untold story,” Weber says. “[In Denver], all we ever hear about is Olathe sweet corn and Palisade peaches. Don’t get me wrong: I love me some sweet corn, and peaches are on the menu right now, but there’s just so much more of a rich history and agriculture scene to the Western Slope that wasn’t being told.”
Utilizing a wood fire and paying homage to the history of the area is key to Weber’s vision for the restaurant. “I don’t get to tell the stove what to do,” Weber says of cooking 90 percent of the restaurant’s food on the fickle fire. “The stove tells me how to cook on it.”
It’s not just the heat source that informs Weber’s menu—there’s a story that goes along with almost every menu item and the goal is to tie history to each course. The Tale Of Three Sisters, a dish that varies in its preparation each season but always includes corn, beans, and squash, references the Native American legend of the same name. Currently, the dish includes local green and yellow beans and Olathe sweet corn.
“We’re actually able to highlight all three of the sisters with a fresh-off-the-local-farm vegetable aspect,” Weber says.
Familiar dishes are given a new spin, like the gazpacho, which is currently being made with cherries from Palisade and Paonia and piñon nuts (pine nuts native to the American Southwest). And though Weber focuses on seasonal ingredients, he’s also pickling fresh corn and making jams and preserves to emulate pre-industrial families in their quest to make it through the long, cold winter.
“It’s more work, but it’s work that pays off,” Weber says. “It’s tough to do the work now and see the results later, but I’ve been through a couple of seasons on the Western Slope, and I know that it’s gonna pay off come winter, when I get to revisit summer in the middle of a snowstorm by pulling out a jar of pickling corn or preserves.”
For the future, Weber is looking for ways to be more resourceful with his protein orders, including beef from local Colorado ranches, and developing an omakase-type experience at the Saloon.
“I want to tell the story through the food of western Colorado and its history to its present agriculture and how that’s all connected,” Weber says. “And if the vessel that I have to tell that story through is by preserving fruit and putting a little extra labor in, then that’s definitely a labor of love that I’m willing to do.”