In a city like Denver, the largest in the Rocky Mountain region, a sophisticated gourmet could enjoy French, Thai, even Ethiopian food; in ski resorts like Sun Valley, Idaho, Park City, Utah, or Aspen, Colorado, the options for expensive, cosmopolitan dining are numerous. All the same, throughout the Rocky Mountain West, a simple, direct, and distinctly regional cuisine makes its mark.
The hearty cooking associated with cattle ranches, rodeos, and the American cowboy is alive and well in the Rockies: good steaks, chili, fresh fish, barbecue, and often a good dose of spicy Tex-Mex food. At the same time, dedicated contemporary chefs have taken the region’s distinct foodways and fused them into a satisfying and stimulating cuisine using game, freshwater fish, grass-fed beef and bison, free range poultry, local fruits, berries, mushrooms and vegetables.
While game like elk, antelope, caribou, pheasant, duck or quail may be available wild at a hunters’ camp, restaurants in the region usually depend on farm-raised game. Game meat tends to be very lean and hence is often made into patés or sausages that incorporate both spicing and extra fat; if in steak or chop form it may be wrapped in bacon or served with a flavorful sauce made from fruit, berries, or a potent wine reduction. Game also does well in slow-cooked stews.
If game serves as the region’s signature novelty dish, fresh, local, grass-fed beef, bison (popularly called buffalo) and lamb may well be the most satisfying meat choices. Idaho Russet Burbank potatoes are known throughout the United States for their high starch and low moisture content, features that make them ideal for baking; the baked potato, topped with melted butter, sour cream and chives, is the ideal complement to a flavorful steak.
The lakes and streams of the Rocky Mountain states have some of the best freshwater fishing in the world. Fishing enthusiasts look forward to consuming the many varieties of trout, walleye, bass and other fish they may themselves catch. Restaurants also offer fresh mountain fish, though here again, as is the case with game, the large ski resorts may have to import their fish from other regions or from Canada. Wild Pacific salmon and other fish and shellfish from the Pacific region are also widely served.