Food & Drink June 30, 2017
in the kitchen with ... Jeff Gundy

In the lounge at Ketchum’s new downtown hotel, Limelight, patrons are welcomed with brightly hued chairs, an array of cozy couches, shuffleboard, and a flat screen TV with rotating sporting events. Live music bellows five days a week. Hotel guests and locals order up small plates, salads, artisan wood-fired pizzas, and cocktails. Come five o’clock, the open space transforms into the spot-to-be that’s equal parts upscale and comfortable.Known for its American-Italian fare anchored by its artisan pizzas, like the Diavolo with house-pickled chilies and chorizo, the menu is rounded out with flavors that wander a bit from what one might expect. A crispy pork belly salad, shrimp lettuce wraps, or a summer barbecue pizza; Asian flavors and exciting twists on Americana classics catch the eye. Cue executive chef Jeff Gundy.

Armed with a notepad of recipe ideas and a draft of his summer menu peppered with edits, scribbles, and idea after idea, the 31-year-old has brought his own spin to the new Main Street hotel.

Hailing from Kansas City, Missouri, Gundy’s career began with a culinary vocational program in high school that lit a spark for cooking, which he has bolstered over the years.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I found something I am good at and pursued it,” he said.

Beginning with that first high school course, which eventually translated into his first cooking job, Gundy’s training came from hands-on experience. He absorbed lessons and techniques from chefs that inspired him and quickly learned what kind of chef he strived to become.

“I remember one day, I had thrown away a bottle of olive oil with a little bit left in the bottom,” Gundy said. “My instructor pulled it out of the trash and made me cost-out how much I threw away. It was about a dollar’s worth, but that shaped the type of chef I am. I make sure to never be wasteful.”

Gundy has brought this lesson to every restaurant where he’s worked over the years: everything is valued and everything that can be used is used. After working for the Italian bistro YaYa’s in Kansas City, Gundy decided to explore the mountains and accepted a position with Snowmass Club in Breckenridge, Colorado.

“I was flipping burgers by the pool,” he said. “I took a step back career wise, but I knew I wanted to be in Colorado.”

He quickly moved up to executive sous chef and planted his roots in the Rocky Mountain West. In 2013, he accepted a job as the executive chef of Limelight Lounge in Aspen.

“He is young, and he is very creative,” said Tucker Vest Burton, the public relations manager with Aspen Skiing Company, which owns Limelight Hotels and Snowmass. “At Limelight, it is about making good food for a casual atmosphere. Chef Gundy creates this balance so well. He is super approachable and brings so much to the table.”

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When Aspen Skiing Company decided to open its sister location in Ketchum, they asked Gundy to spearhead the culinary side of the operation.
Photo by Tal Roberts

“I thought this would be a great experience and an exciting learning opportunity for my career,” he said. “To come and open a hotel was something I had never been a part of before.”

After 10 years in Colorado, Gundy is looking forward to exploring Idaho’s backyard, whether it’s taking a dip in nearby hot springs or trying his hand at fly fishing.

Limelight opened its doors in January 2016 and has quickly cemented itself as the place to have happy hour or meet friends. So much so, that the welcoming space is now referred to as “Ketchum’s living room.”

With his laid-back demeanor and welcoming personality, Gundy is at home in the Lounge’s casual atmosphere. You might see him stroll across the eatery, chatting with wait staff or welcoming guests. On some nights, he helps out however he can, running food or bussing tables.

“I always strive to run a laid back kitchen,” he said. “We listen to music and joke around. That’s important to me.”

As Gundy awaited the summer months to swell the streets of Ketchum, he crafted a menu that highlights the staples of Limelight—must-try 10-inch pizzas with hand-tossed crusts and fresh ingredients—with nods to his Kansas City roots and preferred flavor profiles: Asian cuisine.

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“Barbecue is in my blood,” he said. Whether it’s a pulled pork mac and cheese in the winter or barbecue pizza in the summer, Gundy has a deep-seated passion for barbecue. The Kansas City staple is known for dry rubs with a sweet, smoky sauce, and Gundy has his own secret recipe. When he isn’t honing in on his upbringing, he’s exploring new flavors and spices, with a particular interest in Asian cuisine.
Photo by Tal Roberts

“I like the smell, the taste, the spices,” he said. “You can play around with the flavor combinations.”

For Gundy, being a chef means constantly learning, reading, and expanding his wheelhouse. The crispy pork belly salad showcases a new technique he’s learned, sous-vide, which means “under vacuum” and uses precise temperatures to slowly cook.

“You put a machine on a water bath and it circulates it at a certain temperature,” he explained. “For my marinated pork belly, it is sous-vide at 170 degrees for 18 hours. Then, I chill it and dice it in large chunks and deep fry it so it’s crispy.”

For Gundy, creating a menu is an ever-changing effort. This past spring, he was in the middle of deciding what exactly should accompany his salmon entrée. A sweet corn risotto with pistachio pesto? Maybe. But maybe that would work better with the chicken, he thought.

“I have so many pieces of paper with ideas and recipes. If something pops into my head, I write it down,” he said. “It is constantly evolving.”

Whatever Gundy crafts, one thing is certain: It will be the perfect complement to a summer afternoon spent at the Limelight Lounge.

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Q&A with Chef Gundy

What cooking ingredient could you not live without?

There are some special ingredients I always keep on hand, even though I may not get to use them all the time. Fennell pollen is my favorite; it is aromatic and works with so many things.

If you could eat anywhere in the world tomorrow night, where would you go?

I worked with a chef from Mumbai, India. If I could go anywhere, I would go to the street markets in India and have him show me around. I love the flavors of Indian food; the spices and products would be exciting to experience.

What is the most unusual meal you have ever had? 

When I was young, my parents took me to Breckenridge, Colorado, and my Dad tricked me into eating Rocky Mountain Oysters. That sticks out in my head. I don’t think I’d eat them again … Well, maybe.

Is there a type of food you’ve never had but are intrigued by?

I am learning every single day, constantly. I have worked with chefs who told me, ‘If you think you know everything and you have nothing else to learn, you probably should find a different career.’ I really enjoy butchering and cleaning fish, so I have ordered fish I haven’t seen before and tried to learn. I have been teaching myself how to fillet and butcher.