It is slowly starting to feel like spring in the Roaring Fork Valley, which means fresh produce is on the horizon, and culinary creatives everywhere are busy gathering supplies and ideas to revamp their seasonal menus.
Among those creatives is Josie Cruz, owner of L’Orto Farm to Table.
L’Orto, which is the Italian word for beloved vegetable garden, prepares and serves locally-sourced produce and meat for meal kits and private events.
“I get food from farmers and I preserve it. Then I make meals out of it for people who want convenience-based meals, and of course they’re delicious,” Cruz laughed. “But the point is that people get to eat local food from a pantry-style menu all winter long.”
For years, cooking for others has been Cruz’s “love language.” As a teenager in the Valley, she dived right into the food industry when she secured a job in the kitchen of Gwyn’s High Alpine in Snowmass. However, the long hours and little pay frustrated her, and she asked to work in the “front of house” instead.
“I was getting tumbled in the kitchen world for peanuts,” Cruz said, and she started to wonder, “How do we make it so that people in the food industry can afford good lives? And how do we make it so that consumers can get good food?”
On a mission to create this change, Cruz worked in every aspect of the restaurant world, gaining experience and an eclectic palette along the way.
Eventually, she began working for Megan Rainnie of Gourmet Girl on the Go in Aspen, and with the “big-ticket catering events,” Cruz said she was able to simultaneously branch out on her own.
In summer 2021, L’Orto blossomed when Cruz started hosting farm-to-table events for friends and family. While the setting was private, the menus were down-to-earth and comforting.
“There’s no Michelin anything,” Cruz said. “I don’t make any one kind of food. I make spaghetti and meatballs, egg rolls and fried-rice style quinoa. The menus are based on the ingredients I can get and the food that I like to eat.”
A key aspect of L’Orto is that Cruz works closely with the farmers who supply her meals.
“I was getting everything I needed for the amount of food I was putting out from Erin and Jose [of Erin’s Acres Farm and Rocking TT Bar],” Cruz said. “It was an easy relationship. I did a lot of work/trade for the food, which is something I like to do with farmers if that’s helpful for them.”
This past fall, using produce from Nature First Farm and meat from Dooley Creek Farm, Cruz put her talents to work again with weekly meal kits that showcased nourishing dishes, such as kohlrabi and sausage quiche, Dooley Creek ground beef stews and purple potato gnocchi with creamy pumpkin sage sauce.
While the meal kits and dinners were a hit, Cruz said that she will be taking a hiatus to focus on the next phase of L’Orto: mobility.
Noting the Valley’s skyrocketing real estate market and how it excludes many entrepreneurs without capital, Cruz decided to take matters into her own hands with the recent acquisition of a commercial food truck.
According to Cruz, making L’Orto mobile is a creative opportunity for her to have more flexibility and longevity in the culinary industry.
“I can be at farmer’s markets, I can be at fairs, I can be at people’s weddings,” Cruz said. “Having a restaurant is like the plant from Little House of Horrors, but it doesn’t have to be this constant, hungry, monster,” she laughed.
L’Orto set to cater Farmers’ Night Out
On May 13, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Craft Coffeehouse, Valley residents will have the opportunity to experience L’Orto’s culinary delights at Dandelion Day’s Farmers’ Night Out.
Natalie Fuller, queen bee and organizer of Dandelion Day, said that this year’s event will move away from the panel format, and instead focus on a “fun mix and mingle” experience.
“We just want to celebrate [the agricultural community] and give them a night where they are honored and recognized for the work they do,” Fuller said.
The evening will feature local food catered by L’Orto, music by the duo Bonfire and DJ Grim Nymph, drinks and the chance to connect with local food producers.
Participating farms include Dooley Creek, Nature First, Colorado Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, Two Roots Farm, Basalt Mountain Gardens, Sustainable Settings, Colorado Edible Forest, Rivendell Distribution, Wild Mountain Seeds, Toadstool Traditions, Juniper Farm, and the Farm Collaborative.
“Our valley has a very strong and beautiful agricultural history, and it is crucial to preserve. If we lose that, we’re going to lose our soul,” Fuller said. “The agricultural community is taking care of us, and we have to take care of them. We have to seek them out and bring their food to our tables.”
To purchase tickets for Farmers’ Night Out and to learn more about Dandelion Day, visit them on Facebook. To keep up with L’Orto Farm To Table visit www.lortofarmtotable.com or check them out on Facebook.
Farmers’ Night Out tickets are at www.bit.ly/DandyDinner