by Matt Furber
Thomas Straugh has traveled to the Sun Valley Harvest Festival from Dillon, Mont., for all three years of the food and wine celebration. He rendezvoused in the Ketchum Town Square with his wife and four friends (two from Colorado Springs and two from Carmel, Calif.) to join 300 guests for the sold-out restaurant walk that kicked off the weekend event from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.
The annual celebration of Idaho-raised fare has a spread of events, including festival passes for full access and VIP treatment, single-ticket chef demonstrations, and free activities like the Harvest Market and Sunday’s River Guide Cooking Demonstration.
“We come for the atmosphere, the beautiful scenery, delicious food and wonderful people,” Straugh said, beaming as his friends gathered around him with their new badges and wristbands ready to eat and drink. “You give someone a little alcohol and some excellent food and you can’t go wrong.”
“People are so friendly,” said his wife, Danni. “What’s not to love about Sun Valley?”
When it comes to testing a gourmand, Ketchum does pack a punch. There are literally dozens of places to choose from for a sit-down meal in just a few blocks. Although they are all in fairly close proximity, it is still a little unfair to limit a restaurant walk with 17 venues to just two hours. That’s a little more than seven minutes per restaurant including transit.
The tasting is a tease, albeit a gentle and delightful one, which is the point, but attempting to try all the food offered at the opening act of the festival adds up to little more than desperate race. It’s like trying to see all of Southeast Asia in a month or Europe in a week—a fools errand, but the opportunity to dine and dash is hard to resist since the smorgasbord is prepay ($35) and comes without repercussions.
“Delish,” said Ketchum resident Julie McGregor as she stepped onto the back deck at Cristina’s Restaurant on Second St. E. with a glint in her eye. There, she and her besties sat down to linen table cloths, china and silverware to sample a buffet with tomato, basil and mozzarella crostini, meatballs and something wonderfully fried.
“It is like speed dating,” said Jan Main, a Blaine County resident who lives “almost in Triumph.” Main said her strategy to fit it all in is to try favorite restaurants first. “Yes, we will say that Scott Mason’s pizza at the Ketchum Grill is the best in the Pacific Northwest.”
Mason has an Italian Pizza oven on wheels behind the restaurant at 520 East Ave.
Nadia Novick, a Hailey resident, said her approach is to go to places where you wouldn’t usually go or typically afford. She and Main felt that Sayvour, a catering service at 360 East Ave. had the best presentation of the food tour. Soon, the group of friends headed off to Cava Cava at 230 Walnut Ave., where they tried butternut squash soup with duck prosciutto and owner Chip Fisher’s Jeriko Estate George IV Chardonnay.
Across town after sampling delicious bamboo-steamed dumplings, pork Shu Mai, prepared by Washington Avenue chef Andreas Heaphy, I half considered swiping his yellow rickshaw to make my rounds more speedily.
Fortunately, after racing back across town in a semi-frantic shotgun approach to testing as many delicious foods as possible, I ran into Texas star chef John Tesar on the sidewalk. Tesar will be giving one of the chef demonstrations today at 12:30 p.m. It’s poetically titled Crafting Idaho Potato Gnocchi and the Art of Pressure Pot Cooking.
Tesar and a friend were literally strolling between venues and soaking in the whole Ketchum experience on a warm summery evening between glasses of wine and a cornucopia of inventive gastronomic delights. As I breathed in Tesar’s sense of leisure and excitement about food, it occurred to me, finally, to slow down, enjoy my food, and not worry about making it to each and every restaurant on the list. Tesar, the 2011 top chef of the Food Network’s show Extreme Chef, understands the benefits of patience and anticipation. I now understand the meaning behind star power.
A swallow of Heaphy’s tamarind ginger cooler also helped to settle me down. Indeed most guests at the restaurant tasting round robin seemed to mellow, relax and savor the food and wine as the minutes ticked by. Many people sat down to let everything soak in, like the wok barbequed baby-back ribs with Hoisin-Dijon sauce prepared by chef Tyler Stokes, who owns Dashi at 220 N. East Ave.
“It’s nice to see people getting excited about food and wine, especially food that is grown in Idaho,” Stokes said, wearing his chef’s coat as he greeted visitors to the deck of his restaurant. “It’s good to interact with all the people who are here. It’s getting bigger and bigger and we like to see that.”
A last stop of the evening before the dinner bell rang as reservations filled up was at Nancy Rutherford’s Rolling in Dough bakery and cafe, where Rutherford treated guests to bread pudding with sherried raisins in a chocolate sauce with ginger bread.
“Fabulous,” said Denise Jackson of Hailey. “Really fabulous. That was a really generous treat. Thank you.”
Judy and Tom Erickson, visiting from Minnesota, agreed. They were happy that their vacation coincided with the Harvest Festival.
“Our friends are bummed that they couldn’t be here with us,” Judy Erickson said, adding that she and her husband would be back in the morning for lattes before driving to Boise for their flight home to Minneapolis. “It’s not a bad place where you can eat and drink your way through town.”
Headed south for a screening of The Princess Bride at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Hailey, a preview of an upcoming exhibition about fairy tales, there was time to stop by Boca at 131 Washington Ave. S. to see how the walk was wrapping up. In the last two minutes before seven restaurant walkers scrambled to get reservations with clearly whetted appetites, the live musicians managed to keep things calm and festive.
“It’s wonderful to see so many people who might not have come here,” said owner Alyson Tierney, who was busy seating people with her husband, Shawn. “It’s a great event for us to have right when the season slows down.”
For the Harvest Festival, things are just heating up. Now, it’s off to Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge for the chef demonstrations, where Tesar, Jesus Gonzalez and Jason Wilson will be putting the pressure on The Fabulous Beekman Boys, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge in all their delectable infamy.