In the Kitchen
Valley Chefs Share Some Secrets
ILLUSTRATIONS Charlotte Hemmings
Some think back to the food of the Old Country. Others worked the graveyard shift at twenty-four-hour diners. But all of the Valley’s elite crew of chefs, cooks and caterers work tirelessly to make our lives a bit more indulgent. We wanted to learn a bit more about them.
Owner, Cristina’s Restaurant & Bakery, Ketchum
I came to meet a man.
First job with food
I started a restaurant—Everett and Company—with a friend in Boise and began making my Italian breads and pastries.
What do you miss?
I come from Tuscany, where we are famous for our bistecca alla Fiorentina—a monstrous piece of beef. When you see it and eat it for the first time, you will never forget it.
Leftovers, because they inspire originality.
Does anything ever go wrong in your kitchen?
Kitchens are magical places where wild things can happen. But my philosophy is, life is too short to worry about risotto!
What keeps your kitchen running smoothly?
An old-fashioned stove that does not require electricity to start when the power goes out on Christmas Eve.
If you had just one meal left to eat?
A French toast made of panettone, topped with Nutella and fresh mascarpone.
Best local resource for chefs
The farmers who come to your door with their baskets full of beautiful produce.
What do you eat at home?
I typically don’t eat at home, but if I do, it’s chocolate. My refrigerator is empty.
If you had an all-expense-paid trip to eat anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Le Jules Verne restaurant on top of the Eiffel Tower–not because of the food, but because of the experience, which makes you feel like an indulged princess.
Chef and owner, Three-TEN-Main, Hailey
First job with food
I worked the graveyard shift with my dad at The Country Kitchen, a diner in Pocatello. I was 13 or 14 years old.
How did you land in the Valley?
My sister and brother-in-law (Mark Fisher) owned Mama Inez in Ketchum for twenty-five years. They opened in 1987. I moved from Deer Valley, Utah, in 1993 to open the Sun Valley Brewery with my other brother-in-law (Sean Flynn) and worked there for fourteen years before opening three-TEN-main in 2007.
Earliest food memory
My grandmother was from a small town in New Mexico called Reserve. When I was very young, she watched me a lot. I remember her making big pots of pinto beans and flour tortillas from scratch, fresh off the griddle with butter all over them. Just beans cooked in broth with salt.
Best local food resource
The farmers markets. I wish they lasted all year long. I deal with about a half dozen vendors at the Hailey Farmers Market. We do a lot with Mike Heath at M & M—mainly sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes. When sweet corn is in season, I put it in everything—sauces, raviolis, I even make custards out of it for desserts.
What was your biggest kitchen thrill?
One summer working with my dad, he was sick and couldn’t work one day, so I went in and did all the kitchen prep, including making the sticky buns from scratch. I got the dough rising and all of the rest of the prep for a sixty-seat breakfast place. I was so proud.
If you had only one meal left to eat, what would it be?
The soup that my grandma and dad used to make: New Mexico Green Chile Verde. It’s peculiar to New Mexico, like a pork stew with New Mexico green chilies. We still make it, my sisters and I. It’s the most full-blown comfort food for me.
Chef, partner and owner with Rebecca Kastner, CK’s Real Food, Hailey
What is your Sun Valley story?
In 1973, I had just graduated from high school and I plunked down $199 for a ticket from San Francisco to come skiing. After one day I said, “Whoa, I’ve got to come back here.”
So then what?
In 1976, you just wanted to get a job and ski for free, so it had to be a night job. I got a job washing dishes at the Sun Valley Inn. If you stayed for a season, they moved you to another part of the kitchen and taught you how to cook. I got a great education at Sun Valley. There were these great European chefs who just loved to put a knife in your hand and tell you what to do.
You’ve worked in many kitchens in the Valley.what was your longest run before CK’s?
I had a great seventeen years as head chef at Evergreen in Ketchum. Jack Thornton, the owner, allowed me to grow and experiment and develop. Then the economy started getting weird, and Jack offered to buy me out, and I accepted. Now what? We didn’t have enough money to retire, and the only thing I knew how to do was cook. Rebecca was really the driving force in the whole CK’s thing. ‘If we’re gonna do this,’ she said, ‘we have to own it, just the two of us, on a piece of real property.’
“Anytime you can get through a night without one steak coming back . . .
that’s a triumph.” -Chris Kastner
Early food memory
Polenta. My mom’s father was northern Italian and he had this big copper kettle and a really big spoon. It was a big deal when he made polenta. He would stand there and stir it for an hour and a half and drink wine. I didn’t see polenta again until the mid-80s when it started popping up in California cuisine.
I think anytime you can get through a night without one steak coming back or one person being upset about anything—if you can have a perfect game—that’s a triumph.
Your Last supper
It’s gonna be a big meal. I’d have a really good bowl of pho (from Monsoon in Seattle). Then for a salad, the frisee au lardon from Le Vieux Bistro in Paris. Then for my main course, polenta with some sort of slow-cooked meat like short ribs. And for dessert, any ice cream my daughter Simone would make me.
What do you eat at home?
When I get off work, it’s popcorn and red wine. The popcorn is with crushed red pepper, nutritional yeast powder and a little olive oil or butter. Sometimes, we put on some truffle salt or grated Parmesan. We use an air popper, or sometimes pop it in a pot with olive oil. We have popcorn all the time, a few times a week at least. It kind of takes the edge off.
Chef, the Ram Restaurant, Sun Valley
My wife dragged me here. We were living in San Francisco and wanted to get out of the rat race and move somewhere we could raise a family. We ran The Place at Ketchum’s Knob Hill Inn from 2000 to 2003. I’ve been the head chef at The Ram since 2006.
The Food you remember most
My mother’s cooking. She wasn’t a phenomenal cook, but we always had a hot meal on the table every night. Her breaded pork chops especially. I love them and still cook them to this day.
First kitchen job
I was a dishwasher at a restaurant in Schenectady, New York. I had no experience, but they took me, and I enjoyed it, for some strange reason.
“I proceeded to pass out in the kitchen in my second week on the job.”
Best tool in your kitchen
My food mill. It’s also called a potato ricer. It’s great for mashed potatoes, and it takes the skins off of tomatoes and roasted heads of garlic with ease.
Most humbling work experience
I had just started at Hawthorne Lane in San Francisco, and I had an old dull knife and I sliced the tip of my finger off and proceeded to pass out in the kitchen in my second week on the job.
All-expense-paid meal at any restaurant in the world. Where would you go?
It’s a cliché, but it has to be El Bulli in Spain.
Who is the best local organic farmer?
Mike Heath at M&M Heath Farms. Mike and Mary Heath. They are wonderful people, the type of people you want to associate your restaurant with.
Favorite Valley food
I love the clean fresh flavors in Mexican food. Some of the best food I’ve eaten was prepared by some of the Mexican dishwashers and kitchen staffs at our employee family meals. They are simple dishes whipped up in a couple of hours.
Chef, owner, Ketchum Grill, Ketchum
Sun Valley Story
We were living in Santa Barbara, just had our first kid and were looking for someplace different. We spent a week here in February 1988, and that’s when we decided.
Earliest food memory
I can still taste my grandmother’s scrambled eggs. She was the first one who would let me actually cook. She’d pull up a stool and had this cast-iron skillet that she’d let me use. She must have put cream in them—they were really delicious.
I was working for a master chef in Santa Barbara and I wanted to do a good job. His crème brulee was really popular. We were in a big hurry during the rush, and I got an order for crème brulee and put the sugar on top, and then realized the handful of sugar was actually salt.
What is the food of the gods?
A really good pasta with fresh porcini mushrooms, a really good olive oil, some fresh herbs and a little bit of garlic and some fresh cheese, a really nice Parmesan. A little butter. Simple. And panna cotta for dessert.
Best local food resource
I love Lava Lake Lamb. I push them a lot, because I do love them so much. But beyond their lamb, I’d have to say wild mushrooms. I love mushrooms in all shapes and flavors. I cook wild mushrooms at home: morels and porcinis, shaggy manes (they grow around Labor Day throughout the Valley and are really perishable), oyster mushrooms (if the season is right in the spring) and aspen bolete (under aspens along the bike path).
Do those specialty mushrooms grow here in central Idaho?
Really! Where can we find porcinis?
Ha! Wouldn’t you like to know!
Executive Chef, Sego Restaurant, Ketchum
Las Vegas to Idaho is a big change
Once I stepped off the plane, I was hooked. It was a homecoming—I was born in Pocatello and grew up near Fort Collins, Colorado.
I did an apprenticeship in Fort Collins with a Japanese sushi chef named Sam Amano at Suehiro restaurant. For three months, all I did was cut green onions. He used to pat me on the cheek and grab my ears and say, ‘You have Japanese mind. You do it!’
First taste of success
Opening my own restaurant when I was 24 years old. It was called Linen in Tucson, Arizona. I chose the china and planned the menu. I was so young and didn’t know anything, but it was like having a dream come true.
Spoons. We use Gray Kunz spoons. I don’t allow tongs in my kitchen. Ninety-nine percent of kitchen cooks have a pair of tongs hanging on the oven or in their apron. It’s just so abusive, grabbing and roughing up and poking the food. You have to approach the food with finesse, so everywhere tongs are used, we use spoons.
What do you want to eat right now?
Hand-made pasta from someone who knows what they are doing; in Spoleto, Italy. Hand-smashed braised artichoke ravioli. A recipe I learned from some 80-year-old women there. In a bowl with some Parmesan, with some braised boar. At the end of the summer.
What’s the most unusual aspect of your kitchen?
We have one small freezer and it’s just for ice cream. We don’t freeze any meat. All of our meat is delivered fresh twice a week from ranches in Idaho, Washington and Utah. There are 2,000 different ranchers in the area doing every kind of meat imaginable. I spent two weeks on the phone and talked to over 400 farmers and ranchers to find the best.
Iron chef dream
I’d like an herb battle. Herbs are the foundation of a lot of what we do. They are the bright notes in a lot of great chefs’ food.
“Tongs are just so abusive, grabbing and roughing up and poking the food.”
Expense-paid trip to any restaurant in the world, where would you go?
The Fat Duck in Bray, England. The chef is Heston Blumenthal. He’s thoughtful with each ingredient and enhances them rather than the bells and whistles of molecular gastronomy. I want a carrot to taste like a carrot and look like a carrot. The food is what it is.
What local foods have impressed you the most?
I haven’t been here for a summer yet, but last winter I relied on Idaho’s Bounty to give me what’s true to the region in winter. The roots and potatoes and early winter crops and hard squashes were super-valuable. And the Delicata squashes and fingerling potatoes. Come spring, when I go before work to pick morels, it might be a different story. We cook true to season. We don’t use tomatoes or artichokes or asparagus in mid-winter. It’s irresponsible and not how people should cook.
Owners and chefs, Rasberrys, Ketchum
How did you end up in Ketchum?
Our aunt, Annette Frehling, owns Sister, the clothing store here, and our uncle was partners with Esta. Callie started managing Esta’s restaurant in 2000, and Maeme joined in 2001.
What was your most humiliating job with food?
Maeme: “Welcome to Chik-fil-A, may I take your order?”
Where did you get your best kitchen training?
Callie: During college in San Antonio, we worked at Outback Steakhouse, and the training there was amazing. To this day we use their techniques for the front of our restaurant, for handling food and treating customers.
Maeme: I worked in the kitchen and tried all the jobs. Callie worked as a hostess and got to dress cuter than me every night. I was in the back wearing the dumb uniform. And it was hard to do salad prep with fake fingernails.
Earliest food memory
Maeme: Spoonfuls of butter from the fresh milk my mom churned on the small farm we grew up on in El Paso.
Callie: Rice Krispies Treats.
What has given you the most pride in your career?
Winning Best Caterer in the Valley from the Idaho Mountain Express. Being so new here, being the new kids on the block with just five years in the business, that felt really good.
What’s the most important tool in your kitchen?
Callie: The emulsion blender, before it broke. It’s huge and looks like a power tool, but it can puree gallons of soup in minutes. That, and my hands.
Maeme: The dishwasher.
“Welcome to Chik-fil-A, may I take your order?”
If you had to live on one food for the rest of your life?
Maeme: Homemade tacos.
What simple ingredient goes the furthest?
Squash. It’s so versatile and can be savory or sweet. Like squash empanadas, or the Hubbard squash pie Grandma used to make.