In the Kitchen With Chris Ansotegui of Epi's Basque Restaurant

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Left to Right: Mark Mallory, Chris Ansotegui and Erik McFarland.
  • Patrick Trakel
  • Left to Right: Mark Mallory, Chris Ansotegui and Erik McFarland.

Epi Inchausti came to the United States from the Basque Country in 1929, joining her husband David, who had already been here for several years working. Together, the couple ran the Gem Bar and Boarding House in Hailey, serving family style meals and attracting so much attention that they finally welcomed those outside the boarding house to their table.

In 1999, almost 70 years after Epi first set foot in Idaho, her granddaughters Chris Ansotegui and Gina Urquidi opened Epi’s Basque Restaurant on Main Street in Meridian. While Urquidi does the books, payroll and waits tables every other weekend, it’s Ansotegui who handles most of the day-to-day operations.

“I always thought that having a restaurant, serving people, would be a wonderful blessing and a dream even though I’d never worked in one,” said Ansotegui. “Every family dinner was like a restaurant. You’d spend hours preparing food that everybody sat down and ate for two hours, and then you’d spend the next hour cleaning up.”

For Ansotegui, the catalyst was getting divorced. Born and raised in Boise, she’d had a career with the State Police Forensics Lab in Ontario, Ore., for 20 years. But after splitting with her husband, it didn’t take long to realize that the town wasn’t big enough for both of them. Ansotegui returned to Idaho and settled in Meridian, taking a job with Micron in computer sales, where she went from not knowing what a sound card was to eventually working on government contracts.

Ansotegui said that she was very successful at Micron, but added that she “hated it.” She began to scout for locations for the restaurant in her spare time, and on her way to work one morning, happened to notice the Red Door Cafe in Meridian. Urquidi was initially reluctant, but something about the renovated house spoke to Ansotegui and she called their brother Dan Ansotegui. All agreed that the place would have to be gutted and redone. Dan, who started Bar Gernika in downtown Boise, stayed up late that night figuring out how it could be accomplished. The wheels were finally in motion.

Alberto Bereziartua, Ansotegui’s brother-in-law and a Basque Country native, left Bar Gernika to work as a chef at Epi’s, where he remains to this day. Bereziartua starts his work early in the morning, prepping the dishes that take the most time, such as the soups, stews and croquetas. Ansotegui shows up in the early afternoon to put together salad dressings and dessert sauces, among other things, and is responsible for the baked cod dish that she describes as “to flippin’ die for.”

At night, the kitchen is run by Epi’s great-grandsons, Mark Mallory and Erik McFarland. Ansotegui and Urquidi’s 82-year-old mother comes in to cook every Thursday and other relatives also make appearances in various capacities. The walls are papered with pictures of family, and that’s how it will stay if Ansotegui has anything to say about it.

“My prayer is that someday I can leave this to those great-grandsons and say, ‘God bless you, and I hope you can keep going in her memory and keep bringing love to people,’” she said.


Three Squares:

What three food items can you not live without in the kitchen?
Garlic, pimentos and codfish.

What is your favorite food/restaurant scene in a movie?
Under the Tuscan Sun, when they’ve been working on the house and they all eat together. They’re talking and sharing, and I just love that.

If you could cook a meal for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
I’d cook for Grandma Epi, because she never got to sit down. I would probably make something like codfish, salad and rice pudding, and I’d want her to tell me how I’m doing.

Patrick Trakel is the author of local food blog Treasure Valley Treats and Tragedies. You can follow him at treatsandtragedies.com or at facebook.com/treatsandtragedies.