The Epic(urean) Quest

The Epic(urean) Quest

Stories make food even better.

The Epic(urean) Quest

Stories make food even better.


The Epic(urean) Quest
Jimmy and Grace Anderson, owners of Winterset Farms, grow a variety of heirloom tomatoes in four greenhouses on their Hoback Junction farm.

IF THERE’S ONE trait that all food lovers have in common, it’s their breathless excitement over a good food story. It must go beyond what one ate and where; it’s the why or how, and with whom. The most memorable of meals we share at home are full of personal character, like a delectable pumpkin pie made with grandma’s gingersnap pie crust recipe, and the pumpkin—well, it’s got to have a touch of honey from grandma’s beehives in Montana. For restaurant chefs, their audience changes every night, and the stories behind their ingredients have increasingly taken on a larger role in a diner’s experience: Little gem lettuces are from Cosmic Greens in Victor, the trout is from a sustainable farm in Idaho, my mom churned that butter this morning. In Jackson Hole, short of growing season and far from major supplier hubs, chefs must often go to extreme and creative means for their kitchens. In this age of insatiable story sharing, nothing adds more flavor and emotional gratification to a skillfully crafted menu than these personal quests for the finest ingredients.

The Epic(urean) Quest
At the Ascent Lounge, chef Michael Goralski ships in his sushi-grade seafood from two different purveyors in Los Angeles to ensure a steady supply of pristine fish.

Flying-Fish Myth

THE PURSUIT OF top-quality sushi fish has always taken on mythic scale. Does the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole fly in ahi and hamachi every morning for the Ascent Lounge’s signature sushi and sashimi preparations? No. But executive chef Michael Goralski, whose impressive career included an early internship at the august Commander’s Palace in New Orleans as well as two of the four Hawaii Four Seasons properties, demands the freshest fish for his tataki-loving guests. Goralski ships in his sushi-grade seafood from two different purveyors in Los Angeles to ensure a steady supply of pristine fish, adding, “We never go longer than two days. Freshness is key. There is a certain five-star standard we abide by, and we work only with purveyors who will help us provide that.”


Flour, Butter, Chocolate

THAT FIRST CRISP-then-airy bite of a Persephone Bakery baguette can be a Proustian moment for those who’ve swooned over freshly baked baguettes in France. I was convinced for a while, until researching this article in fact, that owner-baker Kevin Cohane must have been sourcing his wheat, sea salt, or maybe even his water from France since the flavor was so enigmatically reminiscent of the many excellent boulangeries we visited in Paris. Persephone’s wheat is, in fact, domestic but certainly not ordinary. Cohane sources it when he can from historic Central Milling, Utah’s oldest continuously operating wheat mill (since 1867), and he “grows” his own yeast, which gives the leavened breads their own distinctive mountain terroir. Cohane does insist on using 100 percent European butter for the brioche and pastries, which results in a distinctively creamy but clean flavor. Try one of Persephone’s signature sugared cinnamon rolls to taste the rich, but not heavy, difference. Being a Bay Area transplant, I was surprised to see TCHO chocolates so prominently in use and on display at Persephone. TCHO is as hip as a chocolate company could possibly be. They release “beta” versions of new flavors—their mission being to marry a “relentless pursuit of innovation to the obsession with flavor and quality”—at their bittersweet empire founded by the San Francisco Bay. It is also one of the most expensive chocolates in the retail market and still a relatively obscure highbrow choice, especially in homegrown Jackson Hole. Cohane’s wife and partner, Ali, explains: “We really wanted to get an American-made product, and until recently, there were not many of these—although it seems to be quite a big thing now! TCHO focused on making great dark chocolate with unique profiles that focused on the nuances of the various beans they used for their chocolate. It was wonderful that they treated the experience of eating their chocolate the same way people who are into wine drink wine—isolating unique tasting profiles and really exploring the way the various beans and percentages of chocolate created completely different-tasting bars.”

The Epic(urean) Quest
Michael Goralski, executive chef at Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole

Treasures in the Tetons

OF COURSE IT’S not the physical distance required that makes for a truly exceptional source. Some of the most rarified ingredients in Jackson Hole kitchens are grown within the view of the Tetons. For the lucky few diners who happen to be at the Snake River Grill in late August, executive chef Jeff Drew offers for just one night a Sour Cherry Pie, a tart-sweet swan song for the valley summer. Why just one night? Those cherries are from Grace Anderson’s Winterset Farms in Hoback. “She is a sweetheart,” Drew says warmly. “One day in August, when the cherries are perfectly ripe, she calls me and says, ‘You better get down here before the birds do.’ ” Anderson’s three cherry trees supply just enough fruit for one showstopper night’s worth of pies at the Snake River Grill. Winterset is also the exclusive grower of tomatoes and cherry tomatoes for the Grill, a partnership based on respect between farmer and chef, and a shared love and discipline for the most personally tended of produce.

AS WITH MOST aspects of the restaurant business, it all boils down to personal relationships. Chefs who take the time and care to personally source their ingredients tend to carry those connections much longer than any one season or even restaurant. Chef Drew still counts among his favorite suppliers a wild game purveyor he met in Santa Fe while chef de cuisine at the famed Coyote Cafe. Wes Hamilton, executive chef for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, has been a devoted locavore since his early days in the kitchen of Jenny Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park. Many of his deep relationships with farmers in the valley and beyond go back over twenty years, all the better to secure peerless produce for his customers. Hamilton always has a name and a relationship to go with every ingredient he purchases. “Once I find the person, I find the ingredient,” he says.

Hamilton frames his pursuit of great food in the most humble yet passionate of ways: “I’m not scaling tall buildings or rooting around on the forest floor for ingredients. I think it’s more akin to detective work—you hear about a guy growing this, or you go all the way to the Idaho Falls farmers market to meet a guy growing bell peppers in his hoop house. I really search out relationships first, then adapt what they grow into our program. I use the Internet, any sites regarding local food. Whenever I travel in the region (Boise, Missoula, Bozeman, Salt Lake City), I find a farmers market or a co-op. I’m not there to buy really, I’m there to meet people or get information about a producer. It is more about finding the farmer than finding the ingredient.”

Chef Drew of the Snake River Grill is of a similar mindset in taking care of his relationships first and then making the most creative use of those precious ingredients that are supplied. The duck eggs that occasionally appear on the SRG menu are from a small farm in Victor, usually a purveyor of lettuces and greens, and arrive once a week. He never knows how many he’ll have to work with until the basket arrives. “It really depends on the ducks. Sometimes the ducks are just done laying eggs, and I have to rethink a dish,” Drew says.

The Epic(urean) Quest
The Winterset Farms Heirloom Tomato Salad at the Snake River Grill features produce grown near Hoback Junction.

Morel of the Story

PERHAPS NO “HUNT” for fine ingredients is more fabled than seasonal mushroom foraging. This is not a hobby to pick up after watching a few YouTube videos. Morel mushrooms, prized for their intense, woodsy flavor, can be easily confused for a deadly doppelgänger commonly referred to as “false morels.” Late in the spring, and early into the summer, morel foragers quietly walk the banks of valley rivers, creeks, and recently burned areas in search of morels, which can fetch as much as fifty dollars a pound in the wholesale market (compared to shiitakes, which wholesale for around five dollars a pound).

Every chef worth his toque has a trusted mushroom forager, with a fine eye for fungi and tight-lipped territoriality about his foraging grounds. Chef Drew offers no names, but describes his forager as “a ski bum in winter and a chanterelle and morel forager in the summer. He goes out on multiday foraging camps, and I am happy to pay top dollar for his mushrooms. I trust him, and the mushrooms are beautiful.” Jeffrey Hileman, executive chef at The Handle Bar in the Four Seasons, relishes the ephemeral morel season and often forages on his own: “The morel foraging in this valley is amazing mostly because these mushrooms thrive off freshwater sources and burnt areas, of which we have plenty. I do have my favorite spot for foraging … though I would never reveal my source.”

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