THE FOODIE FILES: Distinctive Desires

By on January 12, 2016

Here in Jackson Hole, we like to create our own culinary trends.

A trend that will perhaps never die: the delicious comfort of chocolate bread pudding at Rendezvous Bistro. (Photo: kendra allesandro)

A trend that will perhaps never die: the delicious comfort of chocolate bread pudding at Rendezvous Bistro. (Photo: kendra allesandro)

Jackson, WY – One of the things I love most about living in Jackson is that our town is not trendy at all. Most locals don’t pay much attention to what’s in style outside of our cozy mountain bubble, where a puffy jacket thrown over jeans and a T-shirt is almost always appropriate dinner attire.

But when it comes to food and drink, even the most anti-trendy mountain dweller appreciates an infusion of new flavors — a twist on a classic cocktail to mix up after a day of skiing, a novel ingredient to throw into the elk stew or the next seasonal menu from a favorite chef.

Fine Dining Restaurant Group owner Gavin Fine agrees that our food scene is not about keeping up with the latest national trend. “Nothing we do is trendy,” he said. Urban dining trends that are hatched in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago can take years to reach us out here in the Mountain West. Or not. Some trends — like the national obsession with cupcakes — die out before they even get to Jackson. Luckily, we never had to endure the opening (and closing) of a cupcake shop in our town.

Yet like it or not, many of the food trends that have already cycled through those urban food meccas are influencing our restaurant menus and what we cook at home. The difference? Our local chefs are filtering out the trends that don’t serve us well and translating the ones that work into the mountain-style comfort foods we love.

Chef Joel Hammond, of the Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse, puts it this way, “Jackson is a traditional town. People get put off if you serve them food that is too different. The trick is to not jump into trends too fast.” When Hammond makes his beef bourguignon for the Cowboy menu, he knows the diner is expecting a familiar plate of comfort food. But he switches it up by using modernist techniques and ingredients such as beef cheeks (not chuck) cooked sous-vide that turn out perfectly medium rare despite being braised for 72 hours, and adding baby turnips instead of carrot chunks for an interesting, but not too weird twist.

In an attempt to define the food trends of a non-trendy town, I spoke with some of the leading culinary minds in our community — the chefs, grocers, restauranteurs, butchers, farmers, mixologists and food enthusiasts who pay attention to what we eat and drink. 2015 was a great year for eating in Jackson Hole. Based on what these local food luminaries are predicting, 2016 is poised to be even better.

Vegetables in the center of the plate

This may be a meat and potatoes town at heart, but vegetable-forward dishes are nudging their way onto menus. The first time I tried the Snake River Grill’s cauliflower steak (served in a pool of Indian-spiced sauce), it became my new favorite dish. Jackson chefs are excited about creating satisfying entrees using vegetables, and they want us non-vegan, non-vegetarian diners to break out of our meat-centric routine. The partnership between chefs and farmers is stronger than ever, enabling restaurants to source incredibly good products from our neighbors who grow vegetables. What vegetables were hot in 2015? Jackson diners gobbled up Romanesco, Brussels sprouts, kale and kalettes (a kale/Brussels sprouts hybrid), all vegetables we hope to see more of in 2016.

Artful plating

Chef Joel Hammond credits Chef René Stein at The Rose for inspiring local chefs to pay more attention to the art of presentation. “René went out on a limb at The Rose when he came here (from New York) by making each plate as beautiful as possible.” Stein turned driftwood into serving pieces, cut wood into plates and designed his own dinnerware (with artist Jenny Dowd). Now Hammond is inspired to do the same. He is creating his own line of custom plates that will mesh with his style of cooking. Look for more gorgeous plating in 2016 as chefs express their individual artistic styles.

Locavorism goes mainstream

Every chef I spoke with thought 2015 was a great year for building and strengthening relationships with local farmers and ranchers. Ten years ago it was novel to be a locavore; now it’s just the way the best restaurants are run. Awareness of sourcing local food has become huge in Jackson thanks to our busy and engaged Slow Food in the Tetons organization, a wildly popular farmers market culture and a new interest in growing our own food (Hello Vertical Harvest!). Looking ahead to 2016, I hope to see farmers determining more of what we see on restaurant menus. Instead of chefs telling the farmer what they want, the farmer will be telling the chef,  “Here’s what I have this week.” What’s the local trend we hope to say goodbye to in 2016? Faux-local: “wild” meat served in restaurants (let’s just admit that these animals come from a farm), and trying to piggy-back on the popularity of locavorism by offering a token local carrot on a plate.

Mixologists in the kitchen

2015 was a thrilling year to be a bartender, according to mixologist Meagan Schmoll of The Rose. “We are starting to work with the kitchen for our ingredients. This year we saw a lot of pumpkin, beets and savory ingredients like celery, dill and herbaceous gin,” she said. People are into having an after dinner digestive, and “Fermet and Amaro requests are continually on the rise in Jackson,” Schmoll added. What’s in store for drinking in 2016? Hometown distilleries making spirits from local ingredients, more microbreweries offering limited edition, small-release “nanobrews” and more vegetables in our cocktails.

Year-round farmers market shares

When Cosmic Apple Gardens debuted its community-supported agriculture program in 1996, not many around here had ever heard of a CSA. Nor did anyone understand the logic of paying for produce six months before the first baby lettuce was harvested. Sales were slow. Now Cosmic Apple Gardens routinely sells out of its more than 200 shares per year, and there are numerous CSAs available from many of our local farms. For the first time, 2015 saw a year-round market for farmers market goods in the form of CSA for everything from pickles and jams (Roots Kitchen and Cannery), to fermented foods (Daily Roots) to art (CSA Jackson Hole, a Community Art Project). We can only hope that in 2016 we will see more CSA offerings or even a centralized food hub facility to hold year-round farmers markets.

Comforting, nostalgic desserts

What’s trending on dessert menus in Jackson Hole? Executive pastry chef Chad Horton, who creates all of the desserts for Fine Dining Restaurant Group’s restaurants and catering, says that Jackson diners don’t go for trendy sweets. Arguably the busiest pastry chef in Jackson Hole, Horton dreams up new desserts while he sleeps. He has an eye on all the dessert trends and keeps those he thinks are interesting and that would fit with what locals love. Last year he saw mini desserts, savory donuts, asymmetrical plating, cones as food, black garlic in dessert and a long run of the popularity of salty with sweet. (I loved it when he put caramel corn in his crème brûlée). Although he likes to debut a new dessert menu each season, there are some things locals demand year round — like the chocolate bread pudding at Rendezvous Bistro. “If I take it off the menu, diners write me notes in crayon on the tables begging to bring it back,” Horton said. What is he excited about in 2016? “Homey, nostalgic, old-fashioned cakes” that take him back to his Ohio childhood with visions of June Cleaver in the kitchen baking a cake. “My grandmother’s name was actually June,” he said, “and I love making down-homey, imperfect cakes that take us back to a simpler time.” Horton sees 2016 as the year of the “messy dessert,” the “nostalgic dessert” and another big year for ice cream. “Even when it’s 20 below, people here love eating ice cream,” he noted. That’s especially true when the ice cream is Horton’s signature ice cream sandwich. Horton and Fine Dining will soon launch Cream + Sugar, a new artisan ice cream company. “That ice cream sandwich — it will be my legacy,” Horton said.

The year of the neighborhood butcher shop

All of this interest in local food is finally changing the way we choose to buy meat. Aspens Market purchased Pearl St. Market in 2015 and is coordinating both stores’ butcher shops to provide whole animal butchery and more meat sourced from Wyoming and Idaho ranches. The chefs over at Trio, An American Bistro, and Local Restaurant opened Local Butcher last month to continue their tradition of offering the local meats served in their restaurants. Butcher Nick Phillips, of Sweet Cheeks Meats, a wildly popular fixture at the farmers markets, plans to open a neighborhood butcher shop in Jackson early in 2016. And Fine Dining executive chef Joel Tate has honed his charcuterie and butchering skills to create an entire line of meats now offered for sale in the market of the Bodega at Teton Village. This year it will be possible to buy truly exceptional meat products, easily traced back to the animal and farm of origin, from a score of butchers who will have no problem telling you exactly what’s in that sausage you are about to eat. Let’s hope that’s a trend that is here to stay. PJH

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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