NEAR BEER: Mirabelle's staff occasionally does beer-themed cooking events
A winning combination of energy , passion and a broad, welcoming smile, Chef Daniel Joly (pronounced "Hah lee") owns the four-star Mirabelle in Beaver Creek, CO, along with his wife, Nathalie. Joly, named the best chef in Belgium at the age of 20, talked with RH contributor Libby Platus about the trials and joys of running a restaurant in a tony resort town.
RH: How did you end up in Beaver Creek?
Joly: When I came to the United States from Belgium, I worked in Charleston, SC. After Hurricane Hugo, I had to decide what to do. Beaver Creek approached me. I visited Colorado and saw that it was a nice place to raise a family. I liked the lifestyle. It's a healthy place to live, people are fit and doing a lot of activity. It is a center for fine dining because it is very affluent and there is a sophisticated clientele from across the country.
RH: After five years as chef and manager of Mirabelle, how were you able to buy the restaurant?
Joly: We tried to get a loan from the bank and they laughed at me. Mirabelle was well over a million dollars. A very loyal customer from Colorado helped us. At dinner one evening, I told him we were going crazy with the bank and he said, "What do you need?" He has a good heart. What seemed almost impossible for a chef like me was made possible by someone like that gentleman.
RH: I understand you have had visits by former President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford.
Joly: They are very nice people. One afternoon, seven years ago, just after I bought the restaurant, President Ford came in the back door of the kitchen. He said, "Daniel, I want to congratulate you. We're glad you decided to stay here." At that moment, I was in my dirty jacket, and I said to myself, "Wow, the President just stopped by to say hello!
RH: How do you handle the celebrities who visit Mirabelle?
Joly: We treat them like normal people. Mirabelle has semiprivate and private rooms where they can be by themselves. They relax in Vail (nearby) with their family and don't want all that Hollywood "fufu" stuff.
RH: Do you stay open all year?
Joly: We are open 10 months of the year and shut down during November and May. Few tourists visit during the off season. With a staff of 35, you are better off giving everybody a break, and they come back rejuvenated. To stay open we would lose as much money as it costs to have the break. They are on salary for 12 months. That includes the five trainees.
RH: How do you find the trainees?
Joly: We put ads in professional magazines.
RH: Where do the trainees stay?
Joly: We purchased two condominiums in town for them.
RH: Where do other employees live, since property is so expensive?
Joly: There are areas of subsidized housing.
RH: Are employees paid more here?
Joly: They are paid higher in a sense. We have such a high volume in a short period of time. People make a very good living here. There are a lot of wait staff who work six days a week during the winter, and then they are happy to have a 4-5 week vacation. Wait staff start around 3:30 p.m. A lot of them ski all morning.
RH: Do you find any time to ski?
Joly: I went about 15 times this year. Sometimes I go skiing when a chef friend is here and wants to ski.
RH: Does the seasonality affect your prices?
Joly: The prices are higher because we are using more expensive products in the winter: Dover Sole, truffles, caviar. Two-thirds of our sales are in the winter. That is when we have the high rollers, people who come to Vail to ski, and are very hungry! The people in the summer tend to be older and don't spend as much on food.
RH: What do you do during your two months off?
Joly: I enjoy the trips we've taken, like the two years we did a James Beard Dinner and being Guest Chef on a Crystal Cruise. We just did a Stella Artois la Cuisine a la Biere Tour. It was a challenge and it's fun. You meet new people and see how other people do things. I bring my chefs. We all work so hard in the winter, it's my way of saying thank you to them.
RH: Will you open more restaurants?
Joly: I am fascinated when I see a chef own 12. I don't know how they do it. It is very hard to find 30 good souls to operate one restaurant. And I'm with them all the time. Perhaps, if I have someone I trust, I will go into partnership with them. I don't think I'll have another restaurant just for fun, because I think it will be a headache.
RH: What if someone said they wanted to buy your restaurant?
Joly: Mirabelle has become such a personal thing for us. Since we live above the restaurant, it is even more so. We have many years of memory there. It is where our soul is. Mirabelle is the place we call our restaurant, I don't think it will be for sale. But, you know, everything is for sale.
RH: What kind of preparation did you do for the Stella Artois?
Joly: We planned the menu in February for May. We sent ahead a list of fresh products we needed. We prepared the garnish at home, vacuum packed everything and took it with us.
RH: Does the vacuum pack really keep things fresh?
Joly: It works very well. At Mirabelle, we buy the whole tenderloin and we portion, and if we are really busy, we go through three tenderloins in one day. If we are not too busy, we vacuum pack everything. It keeps everything fresh and sealed in the refrigerator. We don't use a freezer because I prefer using only fresh ingredients. But we have a small freezer just for ice cream.
RH: Suppose some roads are snowed in. If there are no deliveries and you do not have a freezer, how do you manage?
Joly: When we are busy, we always work a day ahead. We have that cushion.