Idaho’s Basque Tables
A distinct Old World culture brought culinary treasures to the Gem State.
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It’s a Family Affair
A black-and-white photograph hanging on a red brick wall in the back of Bar Gernika shows an elderly man tending a busy bar in Hailey, Idaho. The man is David Inchausti, Dan and Chris Ansotegui’s grandfather. The man’s wife, Epifania Inchausti, is rightly considered the matriarch of Basque cooking in Idaho.
Epifania and David Inchausti opened the Gem Bar and Boarding House in Hailey in 1936, the same year that Sun Valley Resort opened. The establishment was housed downtown in a former Chinese laundry on Bullion Street, and it came to be one of the best known Basque boardinghouses in Idaho.
Epi, as Epifania Inchausti was known, at first served mainly Basque lodgers, but her cooking skills soon earned a reputation. She opened her dining room, and busloads of diners flocked to the little Hailey house. Early patrons included Sun Valley’s golden-era celebrities like Janet Leigh, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Bing Crosby.
Epi’s legacy in the Wood River Valley continues today through an annual lamb dinner and fundraiser for Hailey’s St. Charles Catholic Church, an event that Epi and other Basque women helped originally organize in the 1940s. In the Boise area, her spirit lives even larger at her granddaughter’s popular restaurant in Meridian, Epi’s Basque Restaurant.
The culinary passion that Epifania Inchausti brought to Hailey has flourished with her progeny. Chris Ansotegui and her mother still laugh about the day Chris needed an emergency appendectomy, at the expense of what was cooking on the stove.
“Mom took me to the hospital but didn’t realize I would need an operation,” Chris recalled. “She told me, ‘I gotta go home and cook dinner for your dad. I’ll call you later.’ And, I’m a seventh grader, and I’m crying and the hospital staff later got my mom on the phone and she said to me, ‘Honey, I’m making pork chops with pimiento (red peppers) for the family. I’ll be there later.’”
In 1999, Chris opened Epi’s in a small bungalow-style house in Meridian. Epi’s menu is filled with traditional Basque delicacies—inkfish in sauce, beef tongue, lamb stew, halibut and red bean soup. The cooking is simple but precise. “Basque cooking uses very few seasonings,” she said. “Garlic, salt, parsley, paprika, saffron, pimiento. We take good food and make it taste better. We see things that we can incorporate and still stay authentic. We try to stay true to our ancestors and the taste of the Basque region.” >>>