Chef C. Barclay Dodge has a secret. To find it, you’d need to venture off the side of Highway 82 to a place that’s rocky, narrow, and steep, with a small stream running through it. This undulating ribbon of land rises from the dusty, red valley floor several hundred feet to a high meadow where, in August, mullein stalks grow as tall as a person. Reaching this covert destination requires good hiking shoes and a thick douse of tick spray.
It’s here, on a sliver of overlooked public land, that Dodge regularly forages for stinging nettles, mullein flowers, watercress, rose hips, pine tips, and more. Eventually his bounty finds its way onto dinner plates at Bosq, the chef’s three-year-old Aspen restaurant, which serves globally influenced food in an intimate setting.
During a foraging trip last summer, Dodge trudges through the brush and ducks his lanky frame under branches. “Thistle lemonade is quite tasty,” he says, stopping to pet the purple tops of a clump swaying in the breeze. “We put these in the blender with lemon, water, and honey.” He continues on, moving swiftly and methodically, stopping to capture a seedpod between his fingers or crouch down to examine electric-blue juniper berries. “I like food in all stages,” he says.
“We should be eating from around us. I think that means something.” – C. Barclay Dodge
A black, recycled shopping bag hangs from Dodge’s belt loop. Inside are a knife, clippers, and zip-top plastic bags. When he reaches a towering blue spruce, he pulls out the clippers and snips the tips from a few branches. Later on, he will grind this new growth into pine salt or steep it for pine ice cream, pine oil, pine vinegar, or pine brine—all of which infuse Bosq’s dishes with a hint of the surrounding mountains that’s pleasing yet not readily identifiable. “I feel that when we use these types of products, people can’t quite put their finger on it,” says Dodge.
Nuances such as these—along with delicacies like foraged angelica stalk standing in for bone marrow in a vegetarian dish and spring cattails that look like hearts of palm and taste like cucumbers—set Dodge apart.
The Aspen native started cooking when he was young, attended the former California Culinary Academy, and worked under Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten before training with the famously forward-thinking chef Ferran Adrià at El Bulli in Spain.
In 2001, Aspen diners got a taste of Adrià’s influence when Dodge opened Mogador, which offered Spanish-inspired dishes that balanced magic, science, and flavor. Hints of Dodge’s training still remain at Bosq, but what really comes across is his studious approach to locally sourced food.
“We should be eating from around us. I think that means something,” he says while gently shaking the water off a bunch of freshly clipped watercress. As he drops the leaves into a plastic bag, he explains that the peppery plant only grows in the purest of spring water. It is also prolific, flourishing in this tucked-away spot from spring to the first frost. In the fall, notes Dodge, it’s not uncommon for him to collect four bags’ worth in 10 minutes. Today he settles for just one bag, planning to mix the small, round leaves with other greens to garnish a steak dish.
Like many, hunting for mushrooms introduced Dodge to foraging. “It was the gateway,” he says. He discovered the spell of Colorado chanterelles—“like piney apricots”—while working under Chef Charles Dale at Renaissance in 1997. A vendor named Danny Fondren regularly peddled his foraged goods at the restaurant’s back door. Eventually he took Dodge mushroom hunting, and Dodge was hooked. When he opened Bosq in June 2016, he named the restaurant after bosque, the Spanish word for “woodlands.”
With dinner service beginning in just a few hours, Dodge winds his way back down to the valley. Along the way, he’s careful not to run his hands through stinging nettles or trample any promising stalk, leaf, or flower. Just before reaching the road, he picks up a feather, turns it over in his fingers, and tucks it into the bag tied to his waistband. Another treasure from this secret place. 312 Mill St, 970-710-7299