Chef Miles Angelo’s unique range of hobbies make it impossible to describe him as anything other than a Renaissance Man. Truth be told, Angelo’s one of the most interesting people I’ve met: he is a world-class chef, dogsleds, forages for hard-to-reach ingredients, is a co-owner of a dog food brand available at Whole Foods and spends his free time in artistic pursuits. He clearly wears many hats – of which his chef and explorer hats are just two. Though he likes to mush, Angelo certainly doesn’t serve it in his restaurant. The well-crafted Caribou Club menu options are elegant, sophisticated, flavorful and inventive.
Angelo began his working life as an underwater welder and built dam and dock systems 300 to 400 feet below the waterline. But he decided to opt for a more professional job and was hired at a restaurant in Long Beach. There, he catapulted from the lower orders to running the kitchen after about eight months and in what proves to be a great story. It all began with a dinner party for 12 hosted by Frank Sinatra and the Executive Chef coming to work that night having imbibed heavily. Long story short, the Chef forgot to use a towel after removing a hot dish from the oven and the pan adhered to his hand. “I’m 20 feet down the line,” Chef Angelo continues “see that scar right there? [he points] That’s where the pan hit me in the side of the head.” While the Executive Chef was rushed to the emergency room, Chef Angelo was called upon to keep the dinner on course, so to speak. After the meal, Sinatra approached Angelo and said: “who made that pizza? You know you wasted about $600 of truffles? It was one of the worst pizzas I’ve ever had in my life.” Mortified, Angelo came clean about his role in the pie. He hadn’t had enough training in the pizza station thus far. Fortunately, the legendary singer was better pleased with the truffle risotto. Says Angelo:
“Frank Sinatra said, ‘well, you redeemed yourself with that risotto’ and he handed me a $100 bill and I said ‘I can’t take this from you…I’m gonna have to break this into $20 bills and hand each of the remaining guys on the line one because that’s the way it’s done. The only way I could put this in my pocket and feel good about it is if you autographed it to me. So I have a hundred-dollar bill autographed by Frank Sinatra.”
Since his first culinary gig, Angelo has worked at Abiquiu and North Beach Bar and Grill in LA and Arizona 206 in New York City. It was there that the owner of the Caribou Club approached him, desperate to hire Angelo after the chef had been mere months on the job. Angelo told him: “I came to New York City to make a name for myself.” The owner asked how he could help. Angelo asked him to “send the reviewers in” and he did. The next two months was a blur of great reviews. After 18 months at Arizona 206, Angelo traded the city skyline for Aspen’s mountain air; he hasn’t looked back since.
Chef Angelo has worked at Aspen’s famed Caribou Club for the past 18 years, coming onboard only seven years after the members only club opened. He’s been there so long that the restaurant’s glowing reputation and his own creative culinary genius have become synonymous. Though he is catering to the same “affluent clientele” he did at his other restaurants, his food has “changed very dramatically throughout the years.” At Arizona 206 he specialized in “Asianized southwestern food.” But spicy food doesn’t go with great wine and the Caribou Club boasts “one of the finest wine lists in the country.” Chef Angelo crafts his menu around his philosophy of “eating the view.” He’s a very strong proponent of sourcing local ingredients and regularly forages for items like Porcini mushrooms, “the king of mushrooms.” He recently retrieved 50 to 60 pounds of these each day for a week straight with his kitchen staff. “I am a primitive hunter,” explains Angelo, who makes his own bows and arrows and naps his own flints. He both hunts with these and contributes them to his sister’s jewelry line, dna, based out of New York. “These days my art is really just primitive bow making,” explains Angelo whose old-fashioned pursuit feeds into his idea that our society has “lost touch with who we are,” something that a chef can never do. “To be a great chef, you have to be in touch with nature,” he continues.
Angelo’s foraging expeditions by dogsled are just one example of how he is in touch with nature on a deep level. But he also derives inspiration from great chefs and observing his surroundings. He shares one particularly interesting inspirational anecdote: while walking in the alley outside the Caribou Club, Angelo watched “some guy slaughtering this piece of fish on a grill.” The grill wasn’t hot enough, he put the fish on skin side first: “it was an absolute mess.” After seeing the man abandon the grill with ire and leaving behind a large piece of skin, Angelo approached the grill, flipped the piece of skin over, ran down to the Caribou kitchen and retrieved a palm sugar mix he often uses when cooking. He dusted the mixture over the piece of skin and ate the candied salmon skin. “It will make it on the menu some day – not yet, but that inspiration just came up from watching the guy hack that piece of fish like the hands of a blind woodsman.” Angelo explains that this kind of thing is why you must always “be of a presence of mind to be inspired.”
Chef Miles Angelo is one of the world’s culinary creatives. His food is exceptional and his own aura is one of a happy, innovative person who derives energy and inspiration from everything around him. He tells me “if you get set in your ways in this business, then you might as well quit.” But no one would ever accuse Miles Angelo of that.
Originally published on cuative.com. Photos courtesy of the Caribou Club.