On a four-day, 55-mile horseback ride from Vail to Aspen, writer Eugenia Bone discovers how good outdoor cooking can get, thanks to Colorado chef Kelly Liken.

July 17, 2012

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When I told my mother I was going on a long horseback ride and I was nervous, not having ridden since horses were a substitute for boys in my affections, she said, “Well, you need to look each hoss in the face and ask, ‘Do you want to carry me?’”

At the time, that seemed like good advice. A communion of some sort would definitely be to my advantage. But instead, the cowboys at Edwards, Colorado’s Bearcat Stables picked out my horse for the four-day, 55-mile trek from Vail to Aspen, through the magnificent White River National Forest and Holy Cross Wilderness Area. I was assigned a gentle gelding named Socks. Nonetheless, I pocketed an apple at breakfast, figuring that what I couldn’t achieve by horse-whispering, I could achieve with food.

Food was definitely going to be a part of this riding experience, and not just for the horses. Bearcat partner Leeds Butcher, a sommelier, collaborated with his friend Kelly Liken, of Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, to prepare wonderful, rustic dinners for us on the trail. Liken—one of the best chefs in the Southwest, a Top Chef finalist and a contestant on Iron Chef America—seemed in her element, happily cooking at fire pits in the waning light.

 Video: Great Outdoor Recipes from Star Chefs