Top Chef & Taste of Telluride 2022: The Return of One-to-One Mentoring's Beloved Fundraiser
As a part of my culinary externship at La Marmotte, Telluride, Colorado’s premiere French fine dining restaurant, I was able to represent at Top Chef & Taste of Telluride, a fundraising event held by One to One Mentoring, a nonprofit dedicated to providing adult role models, educational scholarships, family support, and community-building initiatives for youth in the area.
This specific event has two components, the first of which is Top Chef, a charity-driven amalgamation of Chopped and a quickfire challenge a la Bravo’s Top Chef, in which two local newcomers face-off in a 40-minute challenge with a mystery basket of ingredients and are evaluated by a panel of judges. The winner of round one then gets a second mystery basket and cooks against the previous event champion.
The second portion of the event, Taste of Telluride, is a token-based voting competition for combined favorite food & drink of the evening. Local vendors from the San Miguel county area lend their talents to provide tasty treats and mind-blowing libations. Guests are allotted one vote via wooden token, and the winner is declared by the end of the night.
I had the pleasure of speaking with One to One Executive Director Tara Kelley about the work being done by the nonprofit and why these events are integral to its longevity. Ms. Kelley explained, “We match a caring adult with youth in the community. We’re totally funded by fundraisers, grants, and donations. We don’t charge anything for any part of our program.”
This event, in its 12th year, is the biggest fundraiser for the nonprofit. Ms. Kelley seemed justly proud of such a dynamic return, as the event was shut down for the past couple years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Per Ms. Kelley, “This is our first year back since 2019. As you can see, it’s a huge event.” And she was not kidding. One to One pulled out all the stops. The event was held at the beautiful Peaks Resort & Spa in Mountain Village. Heartwarming pictures of children with their mentors lined the walls of the Crystal Room and the venue was packed with local restaurant offerings. Through the doors and onto the terrace was a booth for DJ Castle, more food and drinks, an outdoor seating area, and a giant One to One Mentoring banner along the railing, perfect for a scenic, mountainside photo opp.
For Taste of Telluride, La Marmotte’s Executive Chef Stefanie Smith offered up Salmon Tartare on a Crostini, topped with Lemon Crème Fraîche and Fresh Dill. When asked about La Marmotte’s involvement, Chef Stefanie said,
“Coming out of the pandemic, this was our first big opportunity that we were able to get involved. Living in such a small community, making connections with our neighbors and helping raise money for such a great non-profit is imperative for me. Cooking at the restaurant brings me immense joy, but giving back to the community is so fulfilling.”
Our General Manager Mark Rineer prepared what has become La Marmotte’s signature cocktail, Death Comes for the Archbishop, a smoky combination of Tequila, Mezcal, and Grapefruit. Shaken with ice to order, each sip provided a cool burst of flavor that kept the guests coming back for more. As someone who has been involved in Taste of Telluride for years, Mark had some insight as to its popularity. Mark said,
“Food and drink are necessities; So are things like socialization and feeling a sense of belonging. Most of the people who attended Taste are local folks who love the feeling that the community brings. Food and drink provide the framework for socialization in that way. We have to eat, we have to drink. Doing it together and sharing it for a good cause just puts all of the pieces into one place.” Mark continued, “I am very proud of what we do in our restaurant. The opportunity to support an amazing cause and represent this restaurant and restaurant group in a public community setting is something I really relish. I absolutely love being the face of the restaurant to the public, especially within our Telluride family. I’m honored to be responsible for the perception of La Marmotte and I have a lot of fun doing it."
Chef Stefanie added, “This particular event was exciting for me to be involved for two reasons. It was a great opportunity to meet all the other chefs in town and make those important connections. It’s great for me to be able to continue the community involvement this restaurant has had over the years. As for the foundation, it was important for me to be involved as we also provide mentoring at the restaurant for young culinary students through an externship program.” The externship mentioned is the one I am in, a 3-4 month-long educational experience in which I get to learn from-scratch prep cooking, gain fine dining service experience by working the line, and witness up-close the many executive decisions and intricate details that go into running a successful business. Having reliable mentors in this industry is paramount, for not only for developing technical skill, but for fostering creativity, teamwork, and a kitchen culture of people who uplift each other, celebrate success together, and embrace the honor and privilege of providing memorable dining experiences for guests. La Marmotte Chef/Owner Josh Klein and his executive team, including Executive Chef Stefanie Smith, Executive Sous Chef Maggie DeMarco, and Sous Chef Santiago Hernandez are doing just that.
By the end of the night, Chef Jeff Donaldson-Rossi of Backcountry Catering and Sous Chef Brian Batten took home their second consecutive win for Top Chef. Taste of Telluride champion title went to La Marmotte’s sister restaurant SIDEWORK, helmed by Executive Chef Tara Ugarte, for their Pineapple-Achiote Cured Hamachi, Avocado Mousse, Saffron-Citrus Supremes, and Pickled Cherries.
Upon my own reflection of this event, I was blown away by the energy in the room. In such a small town, most of the party-goers seemed to recognize friendly faces at each table. Everyone was greeted with an air of familiarity, whether they had been catching up after just a week or a couple years. Working the table, I noticed a collective enthusiasm for food was evident as guests complimented the chefs, shared their positive experiences at respective restaurants, or exclaimed that they have upcoming reservations and are more excited than ever to dine at La Marmotte.
As a social worker, it was also very meaningful for me to be able to interact with the nonprofit sector again, this time coming full circle by combining so many of my professional passions. In grad school, I specialized my education with a direct practice concentration on Children, Youth, and Families. After years in the field, I know just how critical programs like these are for kids. I was able to talk with Ms. Kelley about the referral process for the program and why it is such an important service for San Miguel County. Ms. Kelley said,
“The kids either get recommended through the school or social services, and sometimes the kids ask to be in it, if they see that their friends have mentors. They want to be part of it. Parents ask. Teachers too. And we have kids on the waitlist. We’re always looking for mentors! That’s the hardest thing for us to find. But basically, we just ask our matches to meet at least once a week. And they normally do something fun, like ski, hike, or just sit on main street. They’re basically just looking for a consistent adult in their life.” She continued that while the program is for youth from kindergarten to the end of high school, these mentorships create lifelong bonds. Per Ms. Kelley, “A lot of our matches, even though they’ve graduated, they’re still together after many, many years. Some [former mentees] have children (of their own) and they’re still a part of their mentor’s lives. It’s pretty great.”
If anyone is interested in getting involved with One to One mentoring in any capacity, please visit onetoonetelluride.org for more information and ways to contribute!