WHY DOES a young man, dubbed heir apparent to James Beard's culinary empire, decide he would rather run a restaurant in a remote mountain village where help is so scarce it takes a month to find a dishwasher; where all of the food has to be trucked up a winding mountain road from a city five hours away; where an order for Genoa salami is filled with kosher salami because the distributor doesn't think the difference is that important; where basic food stuffs such as parsley are often in short supply?
"Because," according to the man in question, Carl Jerome, "there's never going to be anyone who can be an authority like Jim again." Anyone, he says, who assumed he would one day inherit his 76 year old mentor's esteemed position in the food world doesn't understand the Jim Beard phenomenon.
Jerome, who is 31, is sitting in his barely furnished room, only recently and not completely, converted from a storage area on the top floor of the Aspen, Colo., building which houses the aforementioned restaurant, Primavera.
"There was no place to slide into," he explained. "There never will be anyone like Jim again."
So after years as Beard's student and then as his assistant, Jerome struck out on his own. Beard wishes he were back working for him again. "He did a great job for me in the years he was with me," Beard said. Jerome published a cookbook, acted as a consultant to restaurants, freelanced while he decided what he would do with, if not the rest of his life, at least summer.
"It was June 24 and I had no desire to spend the summer in New York. I never had before." A friend with whom he was working asked him if he would like to go to Aspen for the summer and two days later he left, barely having spoken to the man who had hired him to open a restaurant in a building which had seen five restaurants come and go in the space of two years. The average life span of Aspen restaurants is notoriously short but the five which closed in two years helped to lower that average considerably.
The man who hired Jerome, Harley Baldwin, is a real estate entrepreneur both in Aspen and New York City. He loves good food and was tired of the failing restaurant syndrome in the building he owns. Two weeks and six days after Jerome and Baldwin started refurbishing the restaurant it was finished. a
With all Jerome's culinary experience he admits he had little when it came to running a restaurant, but he decided that one based on pasta would cause the fewest headaches. "Pasta gave us the ability to stay really close to the basics and there is a large Italian population in Denver. Getting supplies in this city," Jerome explained, "is enormously difficult."
Their first catastrophe occured opening day, last summer: The flimsy rack holding the china collapsed, breaking every piece of china. An emergency supply had to be flown in from Denver.
Successful almost immediately, Primavera, which is one of the town's better restaurants could never keep up with the demand for fresh pasta, which is made in a window of the restaurant. As an experiment they carted the raw ingredients over to a friendly local bakery and made 140 pounds of pasta on its machinery, loaded the pasta onto a truck and returned to the restaurant just a few blocks away. "We had 140 pounds of melted pasta," Jerome says with the twinge he still gets when he thinks about it. "It was 95 degrees that day and the pasta stuck to the parchment." So Primavera opened its bar for all hungry diners while Jerome started from scratch. An hour and a half and unlimited free drinks later, dinner was served.
The very simple menu at Primavera was determined largely by the fact that the miniscule kitchen -- 3 dinners per square foot -- has no oven. The pasta comes with 10 sauce variations. There are two vegetable casseroles, a couple of vegetable side dishes, one soup, several salads and an anti-pasto.
Whatever normal problems there are running a restaurant, they are compounded in Aspen and Jerome finds it "enormously frustrating. I don't think I've worked this hard in years. I guess I find a lot of satisfaction in that. My mother's great expression of love was overfeeding me and I've always been in competition with my mother.I think I'm proving to the world I can cook better than she."
Besides, he has fallen in love with Aspen, at least for now. "I love being away from New York. There is enormous warmth from people here. I'm away from materialism," Jerome said and then laughed. "I know it doesn't seem that way with the $600 Bogners (ski outfits) running around on the slopes.
"I know it isn't any less artificial than New York, but I care about this town. I feel I can influence it. It's so clean. I love walking in the mountains. I've taken up skiing, hang gliding. I decided I love Nirvana." Jerome admits Aspen is "a very narcissitic town but I guess this is my narcissitic period."
Jerome may also by happy to be away from his hometown, Manhattan, for other reasons. "I have a lot of enemies in the food world in New York." fFirst, he says quite openly, "because I was a precocious little brat."
Jerome feels he's grown up alot since then and so does Beard: "I think he's proved himself with his book and the fact that he went out there and stuck it out. That has changed people's minds."
If Jerome succeeds in Aspen where five others have failed, when he's ready to come East, he'll have something to show for it: The knowledge to run a restaurant of quality when the odds are against it; what to do when the dishwasher threatens to kill the owner (fire the dishwasher); what to do when the chef quits in the middle of dinner (go into the kitchen and put on an apron); how to get parmesan cheese when your supply runs out just before dinner (buy out the local supermarket); how to collect your order of Sicilian olives when the supplier says he's too busy to deliver them (pick them up yourself). You get the picture.
Which may be why Jerome doesn't plan to stay in Nirvana forever. "I don't see myself living here beyond next summer. By then I'll have had about all I can take of warmth, friendliness and kindness."
Here are a couple of Primavera specialities. If you can buy fresh pasta there is no comparison with the boxed dried kind. MARINARA SAUCE (Makes about 9 cups) 1/2 cup olive oil 3 large cloves garlic, minced 2 medium onions, finely chopped 2 large carrots, finely chopped 1 green pepper, finely chopped 2 cans (28 ounces each) Italian plum tomatoes 1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree 3 tablespoon dried basil 1 teaspoon each oregano and thyme 2 bay leaves, crushed Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Fresh pasta
Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the garlic, onions, carrots and pepper. Saute until the vegetables are tender and somewhat translucent, but not brown. Add the tomatoes, puree, basil, thyme, bay leaf, oregano and salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer covered for 1 hour, then partially covered until rich and thick, about 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Taste sauce about 30 minutes before you think it is finished. Adjust seasonings, adding more herbs, salt and pepper as needed.
Serve over freshly cooked pasta. FRUTTI DE MARE (4 to 6 servings) 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons butter 2 cups heavy cream 1/4 cup dry white wine 1/2 cup fish stock (or clam juice) Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg 1 1/4 pounds bay scallops 1 1/4 pounds shrimp 1 pound fresh fettuccini
Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Off the heat. Stir in the flour. When flour is thoroughly mixed, cook over low heat for about 15 minutes. Stir so it won't scorch. Stir in the cream, the wine and stock. Slowly bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer gently 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cool.
Puree 1/4 pound each of uncooked shrimp and scallops in a food processor or blender. Beat the puree into the sauce; add the remaining scallops and shrimp and heat sauce gently until it bubbles and fish are cooked. Do not overcook. Toss immediately over cooked fettuchini.
Note: While the fettucine is fresh at Primavera, the scallops and shrimp are not. In order to keep them from getting soggy and tasting waterlogged, Jerome does not precook them. The only cooking they get is in the sauce. It works. MARINATED MUSHROOMS 3 cups olive oil 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper Salt to taste 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 1/2 tablespoons crushed dried basil 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano 6 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley 2 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms
Combine all the ingredients except the mushrooms. Stir well. Wash and dry the mushrooms, cutting off the ends of the stem. Gently stir the mushrooms into the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least one day, but up to 3 days. Stir occasionally to be sure mushrooms on top are well covered. u