Adventures in Foraging

Led by Canyons Executive Chef Zeke Wray, five resort chefs representing The Farm, Red Tail Grill, Lookout Cabin and Red Pine Lodge, along with Talisker on Main’s Briar Handly, ventured to Idaho to go behind the scenes at an organic farm. Sweet Valley Organics has become an important purveyor as the restaurants look increasingly to regional, sustainable and artfully raised suppliers. Chris Florence, co-owner and head forager at Sweet Valley Organics, guided the behind-the-scenes tour.

“Our foraging trip to the Sweet Valley in Idaho was amazing,” Wray said. “It offered a great opportunity for the chefs to spend time together outside of the kitchen and get a better understanding of the products we use and where they come from. “

“Touring the farm at Sweet Valley Organics was an eye-opening experience,” Wray said. “Organic farmers are dedicated to their craft, much like fine chefs, facing struggles and sharing joys daily.”

“While I had always focused on the plant and final quality of the fruit it is producing, I was less aware of the importance of the soil in which it was grown. At Sweet Valley Organics, I learned that their goal is to be a “no till” farm, which means that they never turn up the earth, helping to create the layers in which the earth naturally settles.”

Wray said that Sweet Valley has actually cut back substantially on its production this year in order to focus on the soil; but thanks to visits like this one, Canyons restaurants remain on the short list of top Western U.S. restaurants that are supplied their amazing produce.

Later, the chefs drove another 90 minutes to Boise State Park to find one of Florence’s “secret stashes” for foraging.

“We’re sworn to secrecy on the location,” Wray said. “But I don’t think we could find our way back even if we wanted to.”

After miles of bumpy, winding roads, the chefs trekked into the woods to find morel mushrooms.

“I will never look at the forest floor the same way again,” said Chef Phil Grubisa. “Chris told us to focus on fallen trees, mosses and shady spots. That was the ‘strategy’. In truth, there was no rhyme or reason to where the morels were, but with persistence, we all started spotting them. Trying to remember to look up sometimes to get our bearings was the hardest part.”

The five chefs pulled about 30 pounds of morels in about four hours. Florence will pull 50-100 pounds himself on a good day, usually hitting two or three of his favorite spots. Then, he will make the seven-hour drive to Park City to personally deliver to Canyons. If he has enough, he may hit a Farmer’s Market along the way.

“The dedication that Chris and the growers at Sweet Valley Organics demonstrate, and the connection to the earth that sustains them, is inspirational and educational,” Wray observed. “It reminds us just how deep we are connected to what we eat. I’m proud that our chefs have the same passion, drive and devotion – and I hope our guests can literally taste the difference.”

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