It's time to get over the whole potato thing. While the humble tuber certainly put Idaho on the dinner table, there is so much more to the tremendous variety of animals, vegetables, fruits, dairy and grain products that are grown and harvested in the Gem State. We asked six local chefs to define Idaho cuisine. And just as there are numerous ways to stuff a one-pound baker, there are many ideas out there about what defines the essence of the cuisine of Idaho.
Chris Kastner of CK's Real Food in Hailey says that any cuisine can be interpreted with Idaho products.
"Modern Idaho cuisine is a melting pot," he says. "Use what's growing outside your door and let the ingredients be the star." Kastner references the potato by pointing out that many cultures use it, from Italian to Irish to French. "Game and potatoes are natural together," he says.
Cafe Vicino chef Steve Rhodes simply calls it "hearty and fresh." When the Boise chef thinks of hearty Idaho fare, game birds and animals like pheasant, quail, elk and even lamb come to mind.
Dustan Bristol of Brick 29 also answers briefly: "It's big!" The Nampa chef says, "Idaho cuisine boasts farm-fresh products from apples to yak."
Bittercreek Ale House and Red Feather Lounge have a designated food forager and sustainability manager who beats the local bushes for producers of meat, dairy products, produce, grain and eggs. That man is Matt Fuxon, who says, "We put on a pedestal the products we use. We like to keep it simple and elegant." He explains that in today's "modern cheffy world," restaurants get caught up trying to impress diners with dishes that are "crazy and wow." But the men and women in the Red Feather and Bittercreek kitchens simply try to do what they do best. The ale house interprets pub fare while the lounge is more contemporary and upscale in style. In both cases, "Idaho cuisine doesn't need unnecessary flair," Fuxon says.
"Idaho has a variety of microclimates," says Susan Zimmerman owner of Sweetwater's Tropic Zone in downtown Boise. "You can pretty much have anything you want. We have the ability to generate the finest beef and fish, and to produce a fresh regional cuisine that is unrivaled. There is so much variety."
Zimmerman believes that Idaho's seasonal bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and meats can be used in many different ways to cook Caribbean and Mexican fare, as well as classic American and Asian food.
"Idaho also has a good climate for wine," she says of the Snake River Valley's designation as an American Viticulture Area, a designated grape-growing region. "It's getting pretty sophisticated." Zimmerman also acknowledges Idaho as a great place for growing animals for meat, as well as the hay and grains to feed them. "We have such great open spaces," she says.
"Simple, rustic cuisine," is how Sego Restaurant chef Taite Pearson defines the subject. "The food is connected to the land," he says. "It's made from things near here and is truly food of the land." The Ketchum chef believes Idaho cuisine is driven by what is available seasonally. "I'm trying to invent what Idaho food could be," he says. "I'm hoping to help create Idaho cuisine."