Tour brings chefs to table

Bonnie Kline thought the best place to talk to Colorado chefs about the cost and quality of the state's lamb was in a remote corner of Routt National Forest.

Chefs from Denver, Vail and Keystone followed Kline down a rutted and rocky dirt road into pastureland, where Andy Peroulis grazes his 900-ewe flock. The idea was to introduce chefs to Peroulis in hopes they would picture his face when they stand in the kitchens of their restaurants looking at the lower prices of lamb imported from Australia and New Zealand.

Peroulis' ranch is south of Hay--den, bordering Routt National Forest. He bought the property from a frustrated neighbor during the drought of 1977, he said. Peroulis' family already had owned the adjacent land since 1950.

The Peroulis ranch is more than 3,500 acres. The Aspen trees hold the telltale signs of sheepherders who have been carving their names in the bark for decades. For years, the names were Greek. The Peroulises hired family members to do the lonely and sometimes dangerous job of guarding sheep from predators 24 hours a day.

In recent years, the names on the trees have taken a more Latin sound. Peroulis now hires his sheepherders from Peru, Chili and Mexico.

As the ranch tour began, chefs had to park their Subarus and take a ride over the difficult roads in Peroulis' 1987 Ford pickup. As he drove, he talked about his memories. He remembered the first year he herded sheep by himself, living in a remote camp with a dog and a rifle. He was 12 years old.

In recent years, Peroulis has joined the many ranchers who need a second source of income to supplement their sheep businesses.

Although the market is the best it's been in years, Peroulis said, the costs of fuel and labor have risen, and the price of lamb has not kept up. The federal government regulates the salaries ranchers must pay their sheepherders, Peroulis said. This year, the minimum pay is $750 a month, plus room and board.

These days, Peroulis guides hunting trips for elk and deer to pay the bills that raising livestock will not cover.

A few chefs in the truck listened as Peroulis described the life of a sheep rancher.

Jeremy Glas, an executive chef at Willie G's restaurant in Denver, said his restaurant is willing to pay extra for Colorado lamb, because it tastes better and is of better quality.

This is the fourth year the Colorado Wool Growers and the Colorado Lamb Council have hosted a ranch tour to market the state's agricultural products to restaurants.

Two-dozen chefs from across the state joined the tour, which ended fittingly with a meal of Greek lamb from the Peroulis Ranch.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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