On winter mornings, while it is still dark in the Elk River valley, Chef Clyde Nelson can often be found skiing to work to begin another day in the Home Ranch kitchen. For a little over twenty years he has been quietly serving his inspired brand of “haute mountain cuisine” to deeply contented guests at our Relais and Chateaux hideaway in Colorado. In that time, the story of his exquisite Rocky Mountain cuisine has found its way into the pages of Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Travel and Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, and GQ, to name a few.
The accolades that have followed his unassuming career are due to a painstaking devotion to his craft and a tireless search for the freshest ingredients available. Clyde’s kitchen, though set in the Wild West near Steamboat Springs, and buried in powder every winter, is steeped in a classical, slow food aesthetic, imbued with the culinary traditions of the Old World, and married to a strong New England work ethic. "You have no idea how difﬁcult we make it on ourselves here,” he says. “ We try never to compromise, and it takes a lot of time, but people do notice."
The portrait of the skiing chef with the European ethos and New England background is one part personal history, one part inclination, and one part fate. Clyde attributes the culinary part of his Alpine career to a fateful apprenticeship he landed after college. "I graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in wildlife management but there were no jobs available in the forest service. I needed work so I took a job as a dishwasher at The Toll House Inn, a Vermont ski resort. I had a knack for being organized, so Anton Flory, the chef at that time, recruited me for a new culinary apprenticeship program. I ended up working with him for four years. “ (Anton Flory was one of the ﬁrst certiﬁed Master chefs in America and a leading ambassador and instructor for the Culinary Institute of America, a legend in the culinary world. )
After his apprenticeship with Flory, Clyde followed his master’s footsteps back to Austria where he engaged in a season of deeper study at the Hotel Stern in Innsbruck. It was there he absorbed the European family work ethic that still pervades the Home Ranch kitchen. “You learn to sleep, eat and live in the kitchen. You do whatever the guests want. You never say no.” This ethic is demanding, considering how far the ranch is from major producers. Still, he admits to being “bullheaded and stubborn about making everything from scratch,” and “pulling menus out of thin air, “ based upon the freshest seasonal ingredients at hand. He is scrupulously devoted to “the lost art” of making all of his own stocks and baked goods and his kitchen employs a full-time baker and pastry chef. In the spring and summer months Clyde can be found planting and tending the garden beside the Home Ranch kitchen, supplying his guests with freshly picked herbs, baby lettuces, and vegetables.
The gardening and farming instinct comes naturally. When he was a boy, growing up in Farmington, Connecticut, he relished working alongside his dad who “cooked all the time,” tended a big garden, and loved to bake and can. In fact Clyde got his start in the food business selling his family’s homegrown produce at a roadside stand. His love for fresh ingredients spills over into his support of local, organic farmers in the Western Colorado region. He strives to source his game, meats, and other needs from local producers who are as obsessive about quality as he is.
In the end, Clyde says he was destined for the Home Ranch, with its Alpine wilderness, great skiing, and culinary excellence. "I’m allergic to cities,” he says. “I love the outdoors and I really love and actively participate in all of the activities here - except horseback riding," he says with a laugh. He shares his enthusiasm and afﬁnity for high country living with his wife Audrey, and his sons Alec and Kyle, who, incidentally awoke another passion in him when they were kids: soccer. Even though his boys are grown now, he still gets great satisfaction from coaching and refereeing local soccer for the kids in Steamboat Springs- when he isn’t busy coaching culinary graduates in the kitchen. He is a natural coach, in both the kitchen and on the ﬁeld.