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Food-loving locals and devotees of The Little Nell still look back fondly on former executive chef Ryan Hardy’s tenure. The chef, who helmed Montagna (now Element 47) from 2005 to 2013, put the restaurant—and local farmers and ranchers—on the national radar, thanks to his rustic, hyper-seasonal Italian cuisine and house-made cheese and charcuterie.

Hardy grew up tending livestock and gardening on his great-aunt’s tobacco farm near Lexington, Kentucky; these formative experiences later galvanized him to partner with Michael and Adde Waters to purchase an 1886 homestead in Crawford, Colorado. The resulting Rendezvous Farm supplied much of the produce, pasture-raised heritage chickens and pigs, and grass-fed lamb for the Nell. Meanwhile, surplus fruit and vegetables were preserved, pickled, or turned into liqueurs for use on winter menus.

Hardy decamped to Manhattan in 2013 to open his first restaurant, Charlie Bird, and is currently gearing up to open Pasquale Jones in NoLita with business partner Robert Bohr. During his time at the Nell, he inspired a new generation of cooks and chefs, many of whom continue to carry on his commitment to supporting local family farms. Here, a look at four leaders in the Roaring Fork Valley’s sustainable food movement and how their time working with Hardy inspired them.

Updated (November 10, 2016):

Catch Hardy back in Aspen as he kicks off The Little Nell's Guest Chef Dinner Series for the season on Friday, December 16 (6-10 p.m.) with an urban Italian feast. For the sophomore year of this dining program at element 47, four talented chefs will take over the kitchen for one night only. Each monthly event (through March, 2017) offers an intimate dining experience for guests and an opportunity for The Nell’s culinary team to work under chefs from around the world. $95 per guest with a $65 wine pairing option add-on for five courses, thelittlenell.com

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Image: Hayley Doshay

Jason Smith

Director/chef, ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch

Connections: Banquet chef/chef supervisor, The Little Nell, 2003–08

Signature Dish: Rock Bottom Ranch heritage breed pulled-pork on cheddar chive biscuits

“Ryan’s support of local growers introduced me to an entire world of food that I hadn’t seen before. Eventually, that led me to a career in sustainable agriculture production.”

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Image: Hayley Doshay

Andrew Helsley

Executive chef, Mountain Division, Aspen Skiing Company

Connections: Chef de cuisine, The Little Nell, 2006–09

Signature Dish: A rustic soup made with “perfectly ripe tomatoes, good olive oil, sweet vermouth, and a pinch of chile flakes”

“Ryan taught me the foundation of my philosophy, that great food can only come from exceptional ingredients treated with respect and care.”

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Image: Hayley Doshay

Flip Wise

Butcher, Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop; Owner Open Fire Catering

Connections: Pasta cook, The Little Nell, 2009–11

Signature Dish: Breaking down a 30-day dry-aged Wagyu beef standing rib roast or a whole Alaskan halibut

“Ryan inspired in me a passion for handmade pasta and the simplicity of a great pasta dish, as well as a respect for fresh, locally grown ingredients.”

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Image: Hayley Doshay

Kevin McCullen

Head cheesemaker, Avalanche Cheese Company

Connections: Production chef, The Little Nell, 2005–08

Signature Dish: Lamborn Bloomers—a creamy, delicate soft-rind goat cheese that
epitomizes summer

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Ryan getting me on this path. He allowed us to try new things in the kitchen and in production; the idea of missing the mark making a new salumi or cheese was never looked upon as a total failure, as long as we learned how to try and fix the problem.”

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