Chef Derek Fontenot comes by his French cooking expertise honestly: he was trained at the Culinary Art Institute of Louisiana where he mastered French Creole and Cajun cooking. Now, he brings that technique and puts a solid Colorado spin on it at the Metate Room at Farview Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park’s fine dining restaurant.
Sourcing produce from the Mancos Farmers Coop, Derek’s inventive dishes use Mexican Cotija cheese, Hatch green chilies, and Juniper-smoked meats. In testimony to the Ancestral Puebloans, his menu makes use of ancient squash, beans from nearby Dove Creek, and the heirloom corn that sustained the indigenous residents of Mesa Verde for centuries. Elk Wellington is the restaurant’s most popular dish, which is served up with a red wine reduction, local cauliflower puree and sautéed brussels sprouts. A close second crowd favorite is the pan-seared trout.
When Derek joined the Metate Room as its executive chef in May 2015, he set about completely overhauling the menu, taking guidance from the magnificent national park setting and the flavors and influences of the southwest. “When you dine with us, I want you to have something you simply can’t get elsewhere,” says Derek. “We usually have guests for just one night as they explore Mesa Verde in a two-day itinerary, and my aim is to completely wow them. We purposely keep the menu a little smaller, and that makes everything fresher.”
Speaking of fresh, the coffee served at the Metate Room (and all the park’s restaurants) is from Desert Roasters from nearby Durango. The restaurant features an extensive domestic wine list, with Guy Drew Wine from Cortez, Colorado as the house pour. And the Mancos Brewery supplies its exclusive Cliff Dweller Red Ale.
An onsite baker and pastry chef also makes all the bread daily, from scratch. That includes focaccia, chipotle pita, blue corn pita, white bread, sandwich buns, wheat bread and all the desserts.
Derek has a bias for getting products locally whenever possible, to support the regional economy and a sustainable farm-to-table ethos. While this fundamental philosophy will endure at the Metate Room, some things will change, too. The entire menu will be brand new from summer to summer. “When you come back, it will be completely different,” says Derek.
If you go:
The Metate Room at Farview Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park
Serving breakfast and dinner daily, mid-April to late October
Reservations strongly encouraged: 970-529-4422
Prickly Pear Crème Brulee, by Derek Fontenot
The fruit of the prickly pear cactus makes this classic crème brulee a beautiful pink color.
Yield – Approx. 6
9 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 quart heavy cream
1/3 Tbsp. vanilla
3/4 cup prickly pear puree
Turbinado Sugar as needed
Heat heavy cream to boil. Whisk egg yolks, sugar, prickly pear puree, and vanilla in a bowl. Once cream is hot, slowly add the cream into the egg mixture stirring constantly. Portion and bake in a water bath at 275 degrees and low fan for about 1 hour. Remove from oven and cool. When cooled sprinkle top with sugar and use a torch to brown sugar.
High altitude tip:
The cooking time may double at altitudes of 6,000 feet and above.