Going to Town
Aspen Sojourner: So Town has just opened on Main Street in Carbondale, and the whole valley is buzzing. What does it feel like to finally get the doors open?
Mark Fischer: Like a mouse giving birth to an elephant. The process was painful, but the results are, I have to say, pretty impressive. That said, I never cease to be amazed at how expensive and complicated I can make opening a turnkey place. We had to go and address all the space’s shortcomings—real and imagined. And then we tweaked just about every element to suit our whims, added a baking program, changed the entrance, etc., etc. And finally, we decided to be open morning, noon, and night. As for buzz, one can only hope there is some—and that it’s justified.
AS: How is Town different from your long-adored and recently closed six89? And from the Pullman, your incredibly popular place in Glenwood?
MF: The one goal here was to not duplicate six89. It was an appropriate time to do something more approachable but equally ambitious. And by approachable, I don’t mean dumbing things down. There are lots of ways to cook—and serve—really good, imaginative, and thoughtful food. On the opening menu, we’ve got half a dozen vegetable dishes in a section of their own, meant to be shared. There’s rye cavatelli with Virginia ham and nettle pesto in a reggiano broth, and a dish of butternut squash enchiladas with tomatillo sauce. Rabbit tacos and crispy pig’s ears with ranch dressing, and also house-made tofu with fried egg rice and kimchee. I’ve been fixated on pastrami lately, so there’s pastrami lamb with rye bread panzanella and house-made sauerkraut.
AS: What’s changed more lately, your approach to cooking or diners’ expectations and attitudes?
MF: Everything pork is getting old. Wait, did I just say that? I’m becoming more enchanted in the power and possibilities of the vegetable. Not that this is a vegetarian joint. That concept of farm-to-table, stream-to-spoon, whatever we’re calling it, will always be an integral part of how we operate. But as a tag line and a marketing tactic, it’s become seriously overworked and underjustified. It needs to be a fundamental way of doing business. On expectations, they’re always high. Being a chef involves more than just good cooking; you’re expected to be a creator and artist and a politician, too. We work really hard at being thoughtful about what we create, but not everyone gets it. Many people prefer the mediocre and the safe. So there’s a fine line. Ultimately, I think my expectations probably exceed everyone else’s.
AS: You also have Phat Thai restaurants in Denver and Carbondale, as well as your other places. Just where do you get your ideas for new dishes?
MF: I try to always pay attention wherever I go. I keep notes. For example, we were turned onto the possibilities of a more vegetable-centric meal by our friends Tom and Karen, who served those butternut squash enchiladas at a small gathering in their home late last year. I just hope we don’t screw up their version too much.
AS: Thanks, I’ll tell Karen you said so. A few years ago you came close to opening a place in Aspen. Do you think that will ever happen?
MF: Never say never.
AS: What are your favorite cookbooks right now?
MF: Japanese Farm Food, by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, and for some lighter reading, Nathan Mhyrvold’s six-volume Modernist Cuisine.
AS: You’re famous for sourcing local ingredients. How much farther can you push it at Town?
MF: There’s always room for pushing. Perhaps people trust me. Fools. I think there are good ways to push the concept of foraging locally for lichens, herbs, roots, mosses. I’d like to have our own forager. Do you know of one?
AS: Speaking of localizing, you got Fiona McCullough to close Grana bakery, move across the courtyard, and become Town’s baker. You must be excited about that—haven’t you always wanted to have an in-house baker?
MF: We’re approaching the bread and pastry program as a collaboration. To say I’m excited about the prospects might be an understatement. We’re even making our own butter to go with the breads.
AS: When you’re not cooking, you’re a famously hard-core biker and climber. Any adventures on the horizon?
MF: Trying to stay balanced. Whatever that means.