Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm Co-owners and Founding Chefs Blake Spalding and Jen Castle will be joined by Executive Chef Tamara Stanger (pictured, credit Blake Peterson).
“We’re excited to have Tamara’s help, skill, and fresh eyes on our goal, which is for our business to be stronger, healthier, happier, and more joyful as we move out of the difficult pandemic years,” explains Spalding.
Castle continues, “There is no one else who could have filled this role. Tamara is a strong leader who will work in tandem with us in the kitchen, while also celebrating the challenges and rewards of high-desert farming.”
All three women have earned recognition by the James Beard Foundation and many other notable culinary institutions for their mission to celebrate, support, and elevate America’s food culture and champion a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity, and sustainability.
Stanger grew up in the mountains of Mammoth, Utah before she ventured out to cut and cultivate her culinary chops. She returned to Utah to reimagine The Lakehouse at Deer Creek through locally focused cuisine.
Now, Stanger’s inspiration for her Utah Heritage Cuisine and the food she creates will blend perfectly with the surroundings of Boulder, Utah and Hell’s Backbone Farm.
“Working at Hell’s Backbone Farm & Grill is not me just taking a job,” says new Executive Chef Tamara Stanger. “Once I met Jen and Blake in person, I felt I had known them all my life. We have very similar cooking styles, and I love what they do. People come back here every year – for a reason. We will make Hell’s Backbone Farm & Grill more sustainable, give us all a great quality of life, and continue to serve world-class cuisine to the thousands of people who come each year.”
And we can only hope that it continues to show itself in the form of pie—of which she jokes she’s probably made a million of!
“I love pie, not only because I love the history behind it, but because there are endless possibilities of flavors and styles,” she says. “My inspiration behind pie comes from every facet of my life—from the season, to what I gather growing wild around me, holidays and cultural events, and most often, what I have on hand at that very moment.”
From traditional fruit pies to custard pies, cream pies, chess pies, mince pies and nut pies, they all start with Stanger’s magical crust.
“I have a specific recipe that I’ve been using for over 20 years,” she explains. “It’s a butter-based crust, and very simple. I refrigerate the dough a day before rolling it, and then pull it out to return close to room temperature where it’s slightly pliable. I make my crusts by hand because I feel like it’s important to work the cold panes of butter into the flour with warm hands in order to incorporate it properly without ending up with big slabs or overmixing the dough.”
When she’s finished, she freezes the pie shell before adding the filling. “If you live in a high elevation like I do, you will find that it takes significantly longer to bake a pie, so freezing the shell helps keep the shape during the initial time in the oven and keeps it from overbaking towards the end,” she continues.
“To me, pie is art.” But that doesn’t mean they are perfect, Stanger cautions. “Don’t be afraid of a dark crust! This will happen when you use rich flour, butter, and sugar. Don’t feel like the crust needs to be immaculate. It won’t matter when you cut into it and take that first bite. Pies are meant to be rustic and homey.”
Hell’s Backbone will open for its 24th season beginning March 31, 2023.
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Heather King: Writer and lover of delicious food and drink in Utah and around the world. Anonymous food critic and writer for The Salt Lake Tribune, The Utah Review, Devour Utah, Utah Stories and more. Runs #LadiesWhoLunchSLC.
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