The air on top of Peak One (12,805) on July 15 at 6:33 a.m. is clear, the temperatures are cool, and the breakfast? The breakfast is hot: a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with a side of yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola.
The Summit Brunch Instagram feed is full of moments like this: smoked salmon Benedict, scallops with pink peppercorn sauce, lamb chop “lollipops” for lunch, and fresh coffee on top of remote peaks. This, one thinks, is how life should be lived—outrageously beautiful and tasty food at some of Colorado’s most remote and beautiful spots.
Summit Brunch, to be honest, was never born to make money or feed your face.
“If I go hike something, I want to have skis on my back,” admits Zachary Ryan, Summit Brunch head chef and company founder. “I want to have an adventure on the way down.” The hardcore skier adds that that he needed a bit more motivation when the snow melted in the spring: “If I was going to hike [in summer] I wanted a reward and the hike down seemed to be a lot easier after a good meal.”
Ryan, who originally hails from Vermont and who moved to Frisco, Colorado, to ski, started complementing his summer hikes by cooking himself breakfasts and other meals on his local journeys. At first, the meals were simple, but with a childhood spent assisting his father’s catering company and experience in fine dining, he couldn’t resist refining his menus and documenting the results (and locations) on Instagram.
“I started posting the more extravagant meals, the eggs Benedict, mimosas and such as Instagram flex,” he laughs, adding, “I would climb a 14er and cook breakfast at the top.”
The Instagram buzz was real and growing, but it took COVID-19 to give Ryan the push he needed to dive fully into the Summit Brunch concept.
With the tourism-based economies of Summit County taking a massive hit in the first few months of the pandemic as Governor Polis ordered ski areas shuttered on March 15, 2020 and instituted a mandatory stay-at-home order shortly after on March 25, Ryan found himself out of his fine dining job, unemployed and with plenty of time to think. “It gave me some motivation,” admits Ryan of the shutdown, noting that in general, COVID was a wake up call for many.
“I started cooking for friends and honing my skills,” says Ryan of the evolution of Summit Brunch, which also involved working with the US Forest Service to obtain the necessary permits to cook commercially for clients at the most interesting and spectacular locations across Colorado’s public lands.
“The issue,” says Ryan, “is that Summit Brunch is a whole new concept. The closest thing to our experience is that someone hires a guide and they’ll cook them a basic meal. We are not a guide service, we are not hiking with these folks. We meet them at a location.” Adds Ryan of the potential to surprise and delight, “It can be really exciting. A ‘let’s go for a hike’ and then at the top there is a white tablecloth meal waiting.”
Ryan is complimentary towards the USFS and understands that the novelty of his service and the newness of the concept poses a challenge to the agency.
“I am grateful for my personal access to USFS lands,” Ryan says of his own love of the outdoor public lands surrounding Summit County. “The White River district is one of the most utilized areas in Colorado. They have a tremendous workload and it is going to take a bit longer to get through the permitting process.”
Ryan is hopeful that he will be able to cater to commercial clients on the public lands surrounding Summit County in the summer of 2022. For now, while he navigates the permitting process, he is focused on pro-bono dining experiences for friends and family, catered experiences on private lands, and refining his menus.
“Each experience will have its own menu,” says Ryan. “I can work with each guest to dial in a menu that is specific to their tastes. If their favorite breakfast is Oscar-style eggs Benedict, then we can do it. It’s an elevated experience.”
But don’t expect that a flight of Champagne or a mimosa will be part of that experience, unless you’re willing to bring your own. “The experiences do not have have a fixed physical address,” Ryan says. “That’s the one thing you need for a liquor license, so while I’m happy to open a special bottle for someone, they’ll have to bring it themselves.”
The Summit Brunch concept is a “wow, why hasn’t anyone thought of that before” idea that has obvious advantages for anyone looking to make a splash when proposing to a significant other, celebrating an anniversary or other special date, or even wanting to make a unique—and special—first impression. Go for a hike and arrive at your destination there’s a catered meal waiting for you, an experience that is guaranteed to delight and satisfy.
With his USFS permitting process underway, his old job gone (maybe forever), and his images of feasts for himself and his friends creating buzz across social media, COVID was the proverbial kick in the ass that Ryan needed.
“COVID has been a very scary thing,” he says. “But there are a lot of creative people and a lot of positivity coming out of quarantine. It gave people motivation to start they own thing, because you realize how much instability there is. Betting on yourself is the best bet.”
Summit Brunch currently offers catering services to clients on private lands. You can learn more at summitbrunch.com or whet your appetite by following @summitbrunch on Instagram.