Salt Lake City chefs such as Tyson Peterson at Mar Muntanya in the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Jacqueline Siao at Adelaide in Le Méridien approach innovation in their kitchens on multiple levels, by configuring their sensory, functional and creative expectations. Both carry impressive cosmopolitan portfolios which have matured through exploring and synthesizing diverse threads of culinary knowledge and personal histories.
An underappreciated and underemphasized trait among chefs is how they use their diverse knowledge to explore stories where they frame a sense of place and heritage to the food prepared and served in their restaurants. These gastronomic stories can evoke poignant memories, amuse for clever ways of how dishes are prepared and presented, or spark the curious diner to taste something for the first time. At Mar Muntanya, for example, Peterson, a Utah native, has been finessing and fusing the gastronomic characteristics of northern Spain and the Pyrenees with the terroir of the Intermountain West, the Great Basin and the Great Salt Lake. At Adelaide, described as an urban brasserie, Siao has envisioned the warm, creamy-colored interior design to inspire a culinary vibe evoking bits of New Orleans folklore.
But, in thinking about how diversity is factored into contemporary dining experiences, Peterson and Siao are finding responsible, respectful and dignified ways of synthesizing culinary cultures. Of course, food is a powerful connector for place and heritage. And, both chefs see opportunities for incorporating local food products which allow them to practice their skills in elucidating a diversity of tastes, presentations, colors and textures. Call it experimentation in the culinary lab: creating hybrid portraits of different regions that hopefully will resonate with diners in different ways.
Of course, brush strokes are needed to enhance the portrait. Some examples work instantaneously while others will need a few tweaks or iterations to extract more satisfying results. The oysters served with beef tartare at Mar Muntanya are a wholesome bite. Likewise, the merus section of a king crab leg wrapped in serrano ham with a squeeze of fresh citrus combines with a glass of Spanish cava. There is toast served with sea urchin roe, smoked espelette butter, locally brioche and pickled Fresno peppers. Another version coming soon will feature tuna. The shrimp and grits dish receives a Spanish twist with a briny paella broth and manchego cheese.
At Adelaide, the warm cauliflower soup is a cousin to the traditional vichyssoise, but now featuring white truffle, d’Anjou poached pears, spiced pecans and a subtle hit of acid tang. Siao’s broken vinaigrettes accompany fresh tuna and beef carpaccio with a subtle synthesis of East and West flavors. But, in both restaurants, experimentation and mastering the learning curve also should lead to progressively gratifying results, with consistent replication.
There are more than a few intriguing parallels in their careers, philosophies and attitudes as chefs. A lot of what Peterson and Siao set out to accomplish is to lighten the project for cultivating a hybrid sense of place and culinary heritage in their respective restaurants.
When he set out to create a brunch menu for Mar Muntanya, Peterson said he wanted to make it, as he describes in an interview for Gastronomic SLC, “cheekier,” and to play with a “side of me that sometimes wants to lighten the mood and even become a bit silly.” A little levity can be wise advice when contending with the pressures of running a restaurant operation in a major downtown hotel. For example, the churro French toast came about as a whimsical riff on Spanish torrijas, which is a caramelized culinary crossbreed of the traditional French toast and bread pudding.
In conceiving the menu, Peterson’s homework was targeted less for attempting to achieve the unforgiving standards of scrupulous authenticity in the food than in seeking how he could translate his enthusiasm and deep respect for the regions of northern Spain to his hometown roots in Utah. Hence, he sought out numerous sources: chefs from the Basque and Pyrenees regions, along with colleagues, including one who holds dual citizenship in Peru and Spain.
Peterson’s Utah roots are tightly woven and extensive. His family includes more than 300 first- and second-generation cousins. While he thought initially about going into architecture, his first gig in the culinary world was an auspicious moment – the J&G Grill in Park City, Utah during the Winter Olympic Games in 2002. He later went to work at The St. Regis Hotel in Deer Valley and was promoted to sous chef after four years. Nearly a decade ago, he joined the Le Meridien property in Indianapolis, where Spoke & Steele was located. The restaurant became well known for its prodigious use of locally sourced ingredients and foods, and for its venture into pickling and charcuterie in the kitchen. In Indianapolis, he leveraged the local provenance of ingredients to create plates such as fried anchovies with shishitos, corn dogs made from pork belly and served with unique dipping sauces and a charred-corn pudding topped with crispy bass and leaves from Brussels sprouts.
Subsequently, in Vail’s The Sebastian at the Leonora restaurant, Peterson produced variations on Spanish tapas creations. The hybrid approach at Leonora has transferred to Mar Muntanya, including bringing game meats and produce from local agricultural producers. In finding items available locally that potentially translate nicely to Mar Muntanya offerings, Peterson has encouraging choices. There are plenty of Spanish meats, charcuterie and cheeses available at Caputo’s Market and Deli and its sister distributor operation A Priori. Local cheeses include those from Park City Creamery and Beehive Cheese’s Big John Cajun. Mangalitsa pigs are available locally, which make for special orders of roast suckling pigs for holiday or special event dinners at the restaurant.
Peterson looks forward to more field research with foraging tours and capitalizing upon his team’s knowledge and networking for locating mushrooms. This includes Andrew Sargent, chef de cuisine at Mar Muntanya, and Mike Wood, who has researched and written a book about wild Utah edible plants in the area, including Brigham tea, Sego lily, mullein, and elderberry, among many others.
At Leonora, comfort foods were a hit. In Vail, biscuits with applewood bacon and charred poblano peppers were served with locally sourced butter and honey. The shepherd’s bread at Mar Muntanya is served similarly and it is highly recommended as an accompaniment to soak up the juices from the shrimp al ajillo.
In Salt Lake City, his riff on funeral potatoes is on the menu, pretty much following in step with many other Utah restaurants who offer their respective variations. More interesting, however, is how Peterson acknowledges the iconic status of the scone in Utah. His scone is more like the Navajo fry bread, which has its own complicated history as a culinary unifier. Navajo fry bread also has positive utilitarian attributes that resonate as a symbol of pride among many members of the Navajo Nation.
“When you do your homework, you soon discover the multiple inspirations of food culture here in Utah and Salt Lake City,” Peterson explains. Regarding the Navajo fry bread, as a Smithsonian magazine article indicated, “One reason is the food’s central role in powwows, intertribal fairs that bring together native artists, religious leaders, musicians—and food vendors.” As for Peterson, he still remembers going to a mom-and-pop store in central Utah with his grandparents and some of his many cousins to have a giant jumbo scone served with butter, honey and jams. “It is one of my favorite memories,” he adds. At Mar Muntanya, his scone-frybread creation can be served either with serrano ham or with smoked salmon, rosemary cream cheese and crispy capers.
Although Spring’s appearance is delayed because of a stubborn winter pattern in Utah, once the sunny, warm weather returns, one of Mar Muntanya’s most promising features will be the period between lunch and dinner service — a take on the vermouth hour that is a signature feature of the the Spanish day in Barcelona, Catalonia and other regions. Along with the vermouth service, absinthe also will make an appearance. The golden hue hour — when the sun hits the restaurant’s sixth floor setting in the Hyatt Regency perfectly — could well be the ideal time to suspend work, put the phone on silent mode, and enjoy a glass of vermouth or a gin cocktail, accompanied by oysters served with beef tartare.
With a multiethnic background that includes Filipina roots and fluency in English, Chinese (Fukien) and Tagalog, Siao has cultivated a philosophy that, in broad respects, shares characteristics with Peterson
Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, she worked in St. Regis hotels, including J&G Grill. Prior to Adelaide, she oversaw the restaurant and beverage operations at Hyatt Centric in Park City and was the executive chef at W Aspen in Colorado and The Lodge/Spruce Peak in Stowe, Vermont.
Her cosmopolitan portfolio has included offerings in the past such as coconut-kaffir lime-lemongrass green curry meatballs, charred mirin-yuzu prawns with grilled shishito peppers and cucumber pickles and jalapeño salt-and-vinegar rubbed chicken wings. A Siao version of a ramped up poke bowl included lump crab, ebi shrimp, tuna, sticky rice and wakame seaweed.
Like Peterson, she is finding new ways to validate the importance and sustainability of the local designation in a cosmopolitan cuisine they create, which may include products that are not necessarily defined as alternatives but instead by their accessibility and provenance of which is more closely sourced than it has been in the past. Again, like Peterson, she is interested in developing the culinary association with place and terroir. As they have accumulated knowledge about food and its potential cultural capital, they become tastemakers and their conceptualization of local foods can open up intriguing directions for others in the community.
As a segue, Siao saw Adelaide’s design as a thematic crucible to convey a vibe and story that brings a bit of New Orleans folklore into downtown Salt Lake and how that might be transported on the plates served to diners.
Many New Orleanians already know the story of one of the city’s most famous social divas — Adelaide Brennan, whose family was among Louisiana’s best known restaurant leaders.
Raised in a Catholic family, the young Adelaide walked every day past a home in the Garden District, which featured Ionic columns with the signature volutes and a wrought iron fence. That home became the target of her dream and when it was realized, that Garden District mansion became a hub for the city’s social scene, especially during Mardi Gras. While she kept the books for her family’s restaurants, it was her networking skills that led her to NOLA’s colorful class of urban royalty. Incidentally, her family’s restaurants were stepping stones for some of the city’s most famous chefs including Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme.
Adelaide’s story captivated Siao. Indeed, such dreams often start in the kitchen. Siao remembers the central importance of it, growing up in a Filipino family. “The kitchen was where we congregated and happiness always was found there,” she adds. And, like Peterson, she was moved to switch her career trajectory as a young adult, when she decided to leave the medical field and pursue studies at Le Cordon Bleu in the Bay Area.
Along the way — in Utah, Colorado and Vermont and then back to Utah — Siao built up her culinary capital. The accompanying culinary gestures — a splash of citric acid flavors, complex sauces and vinaigrettes and juxtapositions of light and heavy tastes — became ways to balance global and local inflections in dishes. “I researched how the right balance of flavors has to be always adjusted because of humidity and elevation,” she says. For example, the perfect formula for sourdough in a San Francisco climate might be easier to control than in a high desert climate such as Salt Lake City.
At Adelaide, Siao’s explorations of various diasporas include tuna crudo with a cucumber gratinee and kaffir lime and cilantro tasting notes. The sea and grits dish merges New Orleans and Salt Lake City flavors with Asian influences: tempura shrimp, étouffée, grits with Beehive cheddar and Swiss chard. The salmon croquette burger is light, served with a green onion and Cajun aioli and a cilantro slaw. The French toast tiramisu is composed of brioche loaf, mascarpone cream, caramel apples and a glaze of chocolate and espresso. Her take on hot cakes includes ricotta, toasted pecans, blueberries, lemon curd and a shortbread crumble. The beef carpaccio is finished with a nước chấm vinaigrette, adorned by crispy shallots, torn basil leaves and mint.
With thoughts of Adelaide Brennan’s legendary networking and socializing skills, which are a part of New Orleans’ urban folklore, Siao says she hopes the menu in Salt Lake City leads to similar local story experiences. It’s a conceivable aspiration. The elegance of Adelaide’s warm hues in the decor is an ideal backdrop for an urbane menu that encourages sharing and relaxed conversations.
A dynamic downtown scene
When it comes to six degrees of separation, Salt Lake City is actually much tighter when it comes to networking and socializing than many much larger metro areas. More often than not, it can be a matter of just two degrees — or, one-and-a-half degrees — even in Utah’s largest metropolitan areas (and still one of the nation’s fastest growing). It will be intriguing to observe how Mar Muntanya and Adelaide develop into the sort of gathering spots in downtown Salt Lake City that produce a new wave of urban stories and perhaps bits of folklore which will last for generations. Certainly, both restaurants are part of a substantial wave of new hospitality venues that are being opened in rapid pace in the heart of the city’s central business district.
Open 7 a.m. to. 10 p.m. every day, Adelaide offers breakfast, lunch and dinner services at set hours. Hours at Mar Muntanya are as follows: lunch (Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), brunch (Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) and dinner (Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.).
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I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college.
When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best.
I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.
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