When Laurent Pillard showcased a tasting menu while interviewing for the role of executive chef at the St. Regis Aspen Resort in spring 2018, he knew the meal must impress more than just the palate. So he prepared hand-rolled mushroom tortellini, served with savory mushroom consommé poured tableside.
“You get the smell, the smoke,” says French-born Pillard, attuned to the power of dining room theatrics having spent 15 years in Las Vegas as a corporate chef for the inimitable Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys.
Pillard got the job, of course, and now he offers a similar sensory experience using superfood ingredients purported to boost energy, immunity and cognition: adaptogen-rich mushrooms.
In August, Pillard unveiled a “Food as Medicine” menu served in the Velvet Buck restaurant featuring Four Sigmatic mushroom elixirs. The three-course prix-fixe is available Oct. 15 in honor of National Mushroom Day, until the property closes for offseason beginning Oct. 21 (through Nov. 14), and then again for winter through April.
“This time of year it will be more popular,” Pillard promises. “Winter you can have more fun with the menu at Velvet Buck. In the summer people want breakfast, then they spend the whole day outside. In winter people get breakfast, ski all day, then come back for dinner.”
What’s more, the St. Regis caters specifically to health-conscious clientele, evidenced by a year-round “spa menu” of lighter bites, Pillard adds.
Launched in 2012 by 13th-generation Finnish farmer-turned California entrepreneur Tero Isokauppila, Four Sigmatic first wowed the mainstream wellness market with its signature “mushroom coffee mix.” The instant drink is made using powdered chaga and lion’s mane mushrooms, thought to support productivity, focus and creativity. Like all Four Sigmatic beverages that followed—other iterations of mushroom coffee, single-source mushroom tea in varieties including reishi and cordyceps, chai and hot chocolate—a key attribute is a lack of mushroom flavor. Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee tastes like…coffee, if a bit earthy. Finland, after all, is known for the world’s highest coffee consumption, estimated at more than 2 pounds per person each month.
A superfood expert and author of two bestselling books (see sidebar, opposite page), Isokauppila visited the St. Regis Aspen Resort in June, where he introduced Pillard to Four Sigmatic and hosted a special private dinner for about 20 guests. Seeking to bolster healthful dining offerings, the resort found a perfect fit with Four Sigmatic’s adaptogenic mushroom blends—a collaboration, so far, unique to Aspen.
“I eat really healthy,” Pillard maintains. “People think French chefs use lot of butter and cream; I don’t. That’s why I like this product: I use lots of broth and vegetable stock (anyway).”
Pillard’s Food as Medicine first course reprises that first dish he made for the St. Regis Aspen in the form of wild mushroom ravioli.
“I made a broth with shiitake, porcini and water; let infuse as if making a tea,” the chef shares. “Add one pack of (Four Sigmatic Chaga Mushroom Elixir) and let infuse to a light broth.”
According to Four Sigmatic, “our Chaga Elixir (is) overflowing with antioxidant properties that support your daily wellness, energy levels and immune system.” Currently, Pillard accents the dish with pickled ramp and tiny, bunched hon-shimeji mushrooms, though winter ingredients will evolve depending on seasonal availability.
Pillard’s second course, currently, is pan-seared Alaskan halibut with sweety drop peppers, green asparagus, and fiddlehead ferns in a broth of Four Sigmatic’s mushroom golden latte mix. Here he emulsifies the steeped orange beverage with olive oil to create an unctuous sauce, which will pair just as well with sea scallops as halibut swims out of season.
Four Sigmatic’s creamy, lightly sweet, coconut-milk golden latte mix boasts 500 mg of shiitake extract and 900 mg of turmeric, accented with a hint of ginger and tulsi (holy basil). Shiitake has long been regarded in Chinese medicine as a fountain of youth fungus, and studies show that the species enhances immunity, eases and prevents iron deficiency, and may have anti-cancerous properties. Turmeric has blown up the beauty and wellness world in recent years for its inflammation-busting antioxidant, curcumin.
While effective doses of these ingredients are substantial, Four Sigmatic values strength in adopting a conscious, holistic lifestyle. As a fan of Four Sigmatic’s slightly bitter mushroom coffee (and calming hot cacao) since mid-2017, I do feel invigorated both mentally and physically when I consume it consistently. And I trust the brand: every batch of mushroom mix is third-party tested for contaminants including yeasts, molds, mycotoxins, pesticides and irradiation.
Pillard’s third course dessert, panna cotta with chaga mushroom and matcha powder, is decorated with meringue mushrooms and miniature meringue batons in a natural effect inspired by the chef’s cycling and foraging adventures in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I make the meringue look like aspen trees, and we sprinkle edible charcoal on top of it” to create a bark-like effect, he explains.
Our corner of Colorado reminds Pillard of his childhood stomping grounds: the Loire Valley. “Where I’m from in France is a big hunting and mushroom region,” says the chef, who plans to source venison, quail, bison, squab and pheasant for his winter menu revamp at Velvet Buck.
“Being here reminds me of my childhood because I taste lots of plums, peaches, apples, from when I was going on vacation to my grandparents (in France),” he continues. Palisade and Paonia stone fruit, he adds, far surpasses any he ate in Georgia during his first U.S. job at the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta.
Whether choosing the light, bright mushroom-highlighting Four Sigmatic menu or indulging in Pillard’s new elk corndog or melting escargot butter “candle” this winter, interactive elements abound. His staple is bison tataki, seared lightly and then served alongside river rocks plucked from a 500-degree oven, for searing, with a duck egg, at the table. As a final touch, Pillard places dried rosemary and thyme onto the hot rocks.
“When it comes to the table people are really curious,” Pillard says, adding that the dish inspires a chain reaction of orders from neighboring tables. Sensory experience wins.