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Thought for Food

"Food brings us together as a community. It binds us all and everybody leaves here with a smile on their face. And french fries? Who doesn't love french fries?"

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In a food-crazed culture where celebrity chefs are known for their on-camera preening and explosive tempers, Chef Ann Tapia breaks the mold. She's soft-spoken, doesn't have much time for social media and politely smiles when you praise her work. But ask her about the multitude of delicacies that come out of her kitchen at Jack's Urban Meeting Place, aka JUMP, where Tapia is the executive chef, and her eyebrows rise like a perfect souffle.

"I'm living my dream," she said. "I couldn't imagine a better job. They're so open to these creative things that I want to do."

A constant flow of guests attending JUMP's multi-faceted events and workshops get tastes of Tapia's food.

"We'll be serving more than 1,200 guests here this week," she said. "No, hold on. That's just Tuesday through Saturday. When we add the food prepared for the next TEDx Boise event, that's another 500 people."

JUMP Executive Chef Ana Tapia (right), Jess Libes, JUMP Share Studio coordinator (center) and Kathy O'Neill, JUMP community engagement director (left). - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • JUMP Executive Chef Ana Tapia (right), Jess Libes, JUMP Share Studio coordinator (center) and Kathy O'Neill, JUMP community engagement director (left).

Tapia doesn't work alone, mind you. She's surrounded by what she says are four of the most talented chefs in the region. Plus, a steady stream of guest chefs and caterers circulate in and out of the kitchen, which has a high-profile footprint on JUMP's ground level.

The menus are as varied as the guests. For preschoolers, there are "Flavorful Fairytales," which combine storytelling and imaginative recipes—a Unicorn Noodle Bowl, for example, changes colors before your eyes. For downtowners, there's Connect on the Deck on JUMP's fifth-floor terrace each Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon, an event that offers live music, mingling and an ever-changing menu—Tapia said she's working on a "JUMP burger." Then, there are the high-profile conferences at JUMP, such as a three-day ConvertKit conference in late June that promises to attract global craft and commerce entrepreneurs.

"I want to present something new and unusual for every one of their events throughout the three days. I love listening to people who are planning events at JUMP; it inspires some really cool, interactive food items to go along with their particular mission," said Tapia.

Finally, there are JUMP's Community Dinners.

"It's all about being a family friendly, affordable evening. They're open to everybody and we really think we're on to something," said Jess Libes, a Share Studio coordinator who plans cooking and food programs at JUMP. "The dinner is the centerpiece of an evening that includes a number of activities. They cost $10, and kids under [age] 5 eat for free. Our first Community Dinner was spaghetti and meatballs."

Of course, with Chef Tapia at the helm, it wasn't run-of-the-mill spaghetti and meatballs: The ostrich egg-sized meatballs were stuffed with fresh mozzarella and rolled in Panko. Suffice to say, kids and foodies were delighted. On the side was a "hand-held Caesar salad," with romaine spears and edible paper butterflies tucked inside a parmesan-flavored chip. While adults ate to their hearts' delight, kids made chef hats and food-inspired Tinkertoys using uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows.

"It was a big success and we had wonderful word-of-mouth, but we're very excited about our next Community Dinner," said Libes.

That event is slated for Thursday, May 31, and Chef Tapia plans to celebrate the splendor of the spud with a gourmet french fry bar. The dinner will start off with shaved Brussels sprout slaw, but then the real fun begins when attendees start to garnish their russet or sweet potato fries with any number of extras: root beer-braised barbecue brisket, white cheese sauce, pico de gallo, bruschetta, crispy kale, truffle oil and a wide variety of what Tapia calls "krazy ketchups."

"We do a curry [and] blueberry ketchup. I know that sounds weird, but it's really popular," said Tapia.

Kathy O'Neill, JUMP community engagement director, said she was salivating just listening to the executive chef describe the fries.

"Trust me, you don't get this kind of food at my house," said O'Neill. "It was a real gift to JUMP when we got Chef Anna to join us. It was serendipity. She has these passions and skills, and it's just a wonderful collaboration."

All of the studios throughout JUMP are focused on something, whether it's innovation, movement or performance. O'Neill said that the creative dishes that come out of the kitchen are an inspiration for all of the above.

"Food brings us together as a community. It binds us all and everybody leaves here with a smile on their face," said O'Neill. "And french fries? Who doesn't love french fries?"