“There are no shortcuts.  People need to know the difference.”

Those are the words of two guys who eat how they live, and live how they eat: guided by conviction and strong beliefs.  I’m sitting at the bar of Acreage, the 13-acre farm, restaurant, and taproom love-child of Chef Daniel Asher and Stem Ciders.  Sitting with me are the Chef himself, and Eric Foster, co-founder and CEO of Stem Ciders.  Not ones to shy away from provocative conversation, we dove into the philosophical side of food and life, and their irresistible ideologies that weave through their businesses.

Oliveus need to eat like this!

Chef Daniel Asher’s perspective on food is no secret.  His resume is about a mile-long, cataloging years and years of advocating for local food and fighting for legislation that supports small farmers.  Some of the most famous restaurants in Denver and Boulder were kicked off by his gastronomic brilliance, from Root Down to Linger to Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, and River and Woods to Acreage.  “Eco-conscious,” “provocative,” and “thoughtful” have all been used to define his culinary mission.  You could also describe his food philosophy as elemental.  Chef Daniel shares how they begin their days at Acreage, “Every day, we are out here chopping wood.  We chop wood, to build the fire, to cook the food.  If someone walked in before the fire was ready and wanted a burger in 10 minutes, we couldn’t do that.”  Sure, we may all be familiar with the concept of slow food. It’s real, local, and potentially organic; but literally building a fire by hand, with wood that has been freshly-axed, brings locally-imbued and consciously-created cooking to a whole new level.

Eric Foster from Stem Ciders is also known for his stripped-down approach to food; in his case, cider making.  Having worked in a cidery in his Michigan hometown – Parmenter’s Cidery, where he started at age thirteen – Eric was raised on undiluted and truly natural flavors, which characterize the ciders that Stem makes today. These beliefs that permeate his product and way of life are a match made in heaven for Chef Daniel.  “What I love about Stem is that they honor the slow process.  They don’t cheat or try to cut corners.  I mean, that cider?”  Daniel points to my taster glass.  “The one right there?  That is made with two ingredients: apples, and hops.  Two ingredients.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”  I ask Eric how they made the decision to market ciders that are so – again – elemental.  Without missing a beat, Eric declares, “I didn’t think about making it a different way.  To me, that’s just the way you make cider.  Why would we do it any different?”

A Stem Cider flight with a delicious dish from Acreage.

“Understand true flavor.”

Indeed, the golden thread that runs through it all is their uncompromising approach to their craft.  They have high expectations of themselves and their products, and they feel it’s their duty to bring integrity, transparency, and accountability to their consumers.  Enlightening those who don’t share their hyper-local sensibilities is also important to them.  “To us, this is normal.  We surround ourselves with people who want to eat and live this way.  But I’d almost prefer to talk to someone who doesn’t think this way to show them how food can be,” Eric shares.

I ask them what single message they would share with a hypothetical person who walks into Acreage and typically eats, say, fast food every day.  What would they want to convey?  Chef Daniel surmises, “I would tell them to know the true process.  Understand the difference between something that is hand crafted, and something that is created in a boardroom or a lab.”  With his signature forthrightness, Eric states, “I’d tell them that they’ve been living a bit of a lie.  People need to understand true flavor.  Take watermelon.  Do you want watermelon, like a Jolly Rancher?  Because that’s not watermelon.  Eat a piece of watermelon; that’s what a watermelon actually tastes like.”

The complex simplicity of Stem Cider.

“We’re all in hospitality.”

For Chef Daniel Asher and Eric Foster, slow food and fast food are more than a description of meal preparation and style.  They’re an analogy for how we live our lives; how we build relationships, and treat others.  “People just want to feel like they matter.  They want genuine human connection,” Chef Daniel shares.  To him, this philosophy isn’t contained by his restaurant’s walls.  “The hospitality industry is not an industry. We’re all in hospitality.  If you woke up this morning as a human on this earth, you’re in hospitality.  It’s our entire journey in this universe.”  Daniel encourages his staff to be “zenned out” and centered, happy and confident.  “There’s a big difference between a good kitchen and a great kitchen.  It’s about cultivating a culture of amazing, positive people who are amazing and positive in all of their life, not just at work.”  To that end, Chef Daniel encourages his staff to take care of themselves, and find harmony between work and life.  “I am better at telling others to take care of themselves and take a day off than I am doing that for myself,” he admits.  Luckily, his wife reminds him regularly to take a breather.

Crafted meats from Acreage.

“There’s a bigger piece.”

To Chef Daniel Asher and Stem Cider’s Eric Foster, food, life, and how they do both are intrinsically connected.  Whether you’re sipping two-ingredient cider, eating a piece of fresh watermelon, or chowing down on a grass-fed/grass-finished, sustainable, local, fire-cooked burger, remember: there’s a bigger piece to this puzzle.

Live with conviction.  Eat with conviction.  You’re a Modern Eater.
Listen to Chef Daniels interview below!

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