Taste Buds Bloom at Botanic Gardens

P1020620Locals and lucky visitors know the Denver Botanic Gardens for their year-round horticultural displays outdoors and in the soaring conservatory, gardening classes, concerts, plant sales and Blossoms of Light every December. But the monthly cooking classes for adults (except in summer) and weekly classes for children (Fridays during the summer) are less well known.

Even less known than these culinary classes are the Gather dinners, pop-up feasts offered roughly quarterly with guests chefs from leading local restaurants presenting creative dinners for a maximum of 75 guests. Previous chefs were Alex Seidel of Fruition, Elise Wiggins of Panzano and Hosea Rosenberg, Blackbelly Catering and “Top Chef” Season 5 winner.

Yesterday evening was my first opportunity to experience a Gather dinner — and what an experience it was. Two long tables were set up in the narrow Orangerie with a garden view and indoor fruit trees in one direction and a view of the opulent conservatory plants in the other.

Chef Daniel Asher desscribing both his culinary philosophy and the next dish to Gather diners.
Chef Daniel Asher describing both his culinary philosophy and the next dish to Gather diners. Photo courtesy Denver Botanic Gardens.

Last evening’s guest chef was Daniel Asher from Root Down and Linger, two restaurants that have been on my Denver Dining bucket list since they opened. Asher created what he called a plant-centric four-course menu, more nuanced and elaborate that he could do in a restaurant dinner menu.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The evening began with gorgeous ruby red cocktails mixed by Mike Henderson, who according to his two-sided business card is both Root Down’s “cocktail service tech” (which is yet another extension of “mixologist” and “bartender” before that) and also Linger’s “spiritual advisor” (which seems just plain whimsical).

Mike Henserson, mixing two drinks at a time.
Mike Henderson, mixing two drinks at a time.

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Then it was time to dine. Chef Asher is a gifted culinarian and committed advocate of fresh and local products. He not only conceived of a brilliant menu full of veggie wonderfulness, but presented each dish artistically — and named each one cleverly. My friend friend and fellow foodie, Toni Dash, who has serious gluten issues, was able to clean the plate at each course, and even though the macadamia-sesame crust on the dessert was reportedly gluten-free, she avoided it — in case.

Spring Has Almost Sprung - baby greens, radishes, grilled ramps, English peas in their pod, beets, salt-roasted whit baby turnips, Thumbelina carrots, Broken Shovels goat cheese, chili pepitas lightly dressed with lemon-infused olive oil.
Spring Has Almost Sprung – baby greens, radishes, grilled ramps, English peas in their pod, beets, salt-roasted white baby turnips, Thumbelina carrots, Broken Shovels goat cheese, chili pepitas lightly dressed with lemon-infused olive oil.
Andalusian White Gazpacho - The soup plate came out with a lovely arrangement of fresh green almonds, marconas, llightly roasted and tightly curled fiddleheads, chili oil, sweet apple vinegar, cucumber brunoise and micro-celery.
Andalusian White Gazpacho – The soup plate came out with a lovely arrangement of fresh green almonds, marconas, lightly roasted and tightly curled fiddleheads, chili oil, sweet apple vinegar, cucumber brunoise and micro-celery.
The fresh almonds merit a closeup. At this stage, the green outer shell is still soft and edible. The pit, which we think of as a nut, becomes the familiar almond. Carefully halved, this whole young almond was the most unusual component of this gazpacho.
The fresh almond merits a closeup. At this stage, the almond’s green outer shell is still soft and edible. The pit, which we think of as a nut, becomes the familiar almond. Carefully halved, this whole young almond was the most unusual component of this gazpacho.
The soup made of aalmonds, green apples and vinegar (I can't recall which kind) is about to be poured into the dish (spout is uper right).
The soup made of almonds, green apples and vinegar (I can’t recall which kind) is about to be poured into the soup plate.
An Interpretation of Peking Duck - Duck always seems to taste better that it photographs (with my modest camera and skills to march, that is). Maple Leaf Farms duck leg confit was brined and cooked twice (once with a hoisin lacquer) for incredible tenderness and rich flavor. It was served on quinoa from White Mountain Farms in Mosca, Colorado, with dreid cherries and pistachio. Also on the plate were exotic yet locally sourced tat soi from Circle Fresh Farms of Wheat Ridge and purple scallion from Produce Denver. The greens are from Aero Farms and the siracha sauce was house-made.
An Interpretation of Peking Duck – Duck always seems to taste better that it photographs (with my modest camera and skills to march, that is). Maple Leaf Farms duck leg confit was brined and cooked twice (once with a hoisin lacquer) for incredible tenderness and rich flavor. It was served on quinoa from White Mountain Farms in Mosca, Colorado, with added dried cherries and pistachio. Also on the plate were exotic yet locally sourced tat soi from Circle Fresh Farms of Wheat Ridge and purple scallion from Produce Denver. The greens are from Aero Farms and the siracha sauce was house-made.
Aero Gardens tower of growing greens also merits special mention.  Diners were inivited to pick some of the freshest greens imaginable. I took a handful and satiated as I was, nibbled them in the car on the way home.
Aero Gardens’ tower of growing greens also merits special mention. Diners were inivited to pick some of the freshest greens imaginable. I took a handful and satiated as I was, nibbled them in the car on the way home.
Cheesecake Outside the Bos - Pineapple mascarpone cheesecake with Lundberg Farmily Farms jasmine ride, pineapple jalapeno jam, macadamia nuts and seasame.
Cheesecake Outside the Box – Pineapple mascarpone cheesecake with Lundberg Family Farms jasmine ride, pineapple jalapeno jam, macadamia nuts and sesame.

The next Gather dinner will be held in fall at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, which features a working farm in southern Jefferson County. The chef has not yet been announced. Price Check: Gather dinners cost $75. The BYOB policy saves money, and no one seemed to leave a gratuity for the waitstaff.