12 (+1) chefs who make dining out a special occasion
After publishing last year’s Chef Issue, we knew we had just scratched the surface of the immense culinary talent stretching along the Wasatch Front. No matter the day of the week or hour of the day, there are chefs and kitchen staff somewhere in the 801 tirelessly plying their craft to plan, prep, produce and plate some of the most palatable dishes imaginable.
These professional superstars are often seen as go-getters and workhorses. As the following profiles show, many are creative, driven and perfectionistic.
So what motivates these notable chefs? Is it money? Many scoff at the idea. Lifestyle? Again, it’s not as glamorous as you might think. Prestige? Of course, but in a world where most chefs work behind the scenes and often as a team, acclaim is often hard to come by. But nearly all agree that a patron’s joyful expression after they just took a bite of something chef-made is the ultimate reward, and that’s why many say they do it.
This year, we’ve come up with a baker’s dozen of local kitchen pros worthy of applause. While our list remains but a sampling, we had to start somewhere! Many profiled here are in the midst of change: either starting something new or fine-tuning old favorites. In other words, they’re evolving, which our writers found exciting.
As always, we welcome your suggestions regarding your favorite chefs. Let us know which chef brings a smile to your face.
Hitting all the senses
You might say Logen Crew has been around the block once or twice, working in and even launching a number of Salt Lake City eateries. After winning scholarships from the ProStart program in high school, Crew attended a few months of culinary school, but after moving up quickly in the industry, he opted for the more hands-on route.
“I really like to cook well-balanced food in both texture and flavor,” Crew says. “That is something I try to do in everything I cook. I want all the senses to get hit.”
He began his culinary career in 2004 at Café Trio in Cottonwood Heights and moved on to Fresco, where he was promoted to head chef. After eight years, he did a stretch at Log Haven, learning from his mentor, Dave Jones. Crew went on to open Current Fish and Oyster and Stanza, among others, prior to the grand opening of his current restaurant, SLC Eatery, which first welcomed diners this past January.
“We are trying to do something that Salt Lake has never seen,” he says, noting that their cuisine is best described as “contemporary New American.” SLC Eatery is “dipping into as many cuisines as possible,” he adds. “Right now, it has a very Asian and Mexican influence, but it will change.”
SLC Eatery uses carts that circulate—dim-sum style—with small plates of three to four bites each.
“You will never be waiting for food,” he says. “I like to eat like that, trying a few different things.” (Aimee L. Cook)
SLC Eatery | 1017 S. Main, SLC
801-355-7952 | SLCEatery.com
[Correction: In the Devour print edition, a photo of Harmons’ chef Aaron Ballard was incorrectly identified as Logen Crew. Apologies to both Logen Crew and Aaron Ballard for the error.]
Making barbecue ‘pretty’
Recipe developer and professionally trained chef Kelly Cahoon is contracted locally by Traeger Grills and Harmons to create recipes that inspire home cooks to think outside the mac ’n’ cheese box.
“This really came about by accident about a year ago,” Cahoon says. “I started posting things on Instagram to keep track of things I made that my family really liked. My husband then surprised me with a Traeger [grill], so I started doing more Traeger recipes.”
She’s been able to create a niche of making barbecue “pretty,” as she puts it, with recipes like her smoked white wine cake and perfectly browned, spatchcocked Guinness chicken. She does this while still enjoying her full-time job as a stay-at-home mom.
While in college, Cahoon worked in various restaurants, then began her own catering company, Kiss My Cake, where she made wedding and bridal cakes. She now teaches classes at the Traeger headquarters in Sugar House and cooking classes at various Harmons stores throughout the state.
“Teaching people who want to learn is a dream come true,” Cahoon says. “I find inspiration from other people, the home-grown chef, people who have other jobs but absolutely love food and love creating.” (Aimee L. Cook)
Truckin’ to the Garage
“I ran the [Chow Truck] for the past three years. I had a lot of fun with it, but it was time to shut it down,” chef J. Looney says. “I have always done other things as well: catering, private chef, etc. I was looking for something else, and the opportunity to work at the Garage on Beck came up. And here I am.”
Looney grew up in the industry, as his father worked in institutional food service. When he was 14, he lied about his age on a job application so he could work as a dishwasher at a now-defunct Midvale burger joint.
“I am self-taught,” Looney says. “Everything I know, I learned from some really great chefs in some awesome kitchens.”
One chef who inspires him is New York City’s Momofuku Noodle Bar chef David Chang. “I like that he approaches food by learning everything about it,” Looney says. “He spent hundreds of hours researching miso. It is not just about what is on the plate but the entire journey of how it gets there.”
Looney embraces a variety of cuisines: He makes an outstanding mole and an even better lasagna, and his mac ’n’ cheese? Well, if you haven’t heard about his rich hearty concoction made with Beehive Promontory cheddar and Squatters Hop Rising Ale, it’s legendary. (Aimee L. Cook)
Garage on Beck | 1199 N. Beck St., SLC,
801-521-3904 | GarageOnBeck.com
Zachary ‘Buzz’ Willey
Where the wild things are
Buzz Willey attended culinary school at The Art Institute of California in San Diego.
Like many in the industry, he began his restaurant career as a busboy, moved up to dishwasher, then pastry chef and now, since 2015, is executive chef and, along with Esther Imotan, co-owner of Pallet.
“The elk dish on our menu is my favorite right now,” Willey says of the restaurant’s inventive New American cuisine. “I am liking that there is a lot more playfulness in food right now. We want our guests to come into a casual [environment] and have a good experience with food that they might not be able to try somewhere else at a reasonable price.”
Rabbit, duck and scallops: Willey’s menu presents diners with an invitation to take a culinary leap and try a wide range of tastes, textures and flavors.
One dish that Willey says will always remain on the menu is his grandmother’s meatballs. Spending time with her in the kitchen through the years, watching her prepare leg of lamb and other classic Italian dishes, served as an inspiration for him to become a chef, so much so that he recreated her meatballs by smell and taste. (Aimee L. Cook)
Pallet | 237 S. 400 West, SLC
801-935-4431 | EatPallet.com
Always looking to improve
“You can’t do this job—and do it well—without a great team,” says executive chef Jonathan LeBlanc of the line staff he’s directed at Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar for two years.
“This is the best kitchen team I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “They’re always looking to improve.” And the respect is mutual: LeBlanc is often credited with being a thoughtful leader and all-around great boss. High praise, indeed, in this demanding profession.
Although he started out his education with college studies in criminal justice, LeBlanc quickly realized that his passion was food. After completing culinary school in Houston, he stayed on at Arts Institute Culinary School as an instructor and led the on-site restaurant. From there, LeBlanc took on some serious challenges in the industry. He ran an almost 400-seat Texas steakhouse in Houston and was the private chef at a remote fishing resort outside Juneau, Alaska, for which he took four planes and an entire day to do all the weekly shopping.
Both through his Alaskan experience and family roots in Louisiana’s Cajun country, LeBlanc developed a deft touch with seafood, as evidenced by rave reviews for Stanza’s lobster linguine and tender agnolotti with gulf shrimp. “Italians love using the absolute best ingredients,” LeBlanc says, “so that’s our priority here, as well” for product sourcing and their handmade pasta. He continues, “I really think that, at Stanza, the best is still to come.” (Darby Doyle)
Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar
454 E. 300 South, SLC | 801-746-4441
The need to mentor
Jordan Harvey, executive chef of Hearth and Hill in Park City, earned a degree in culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Denver. Before moving to Utah, his restaurant experience included eateries in Vail, Colo.; New York City; Portland, Ore., and Charleston, S.C.
Harvey moved to Park City in 2010 and worked at many prestigious restaurants, including Zoom, Apex at Montage Deer Valley and Grappa.
“I look to immigrant communities [to find inspiration], people who take more humble ingredients and turn them into something,” Harvey explains. Anyone can slice the perfect tomato and put it on a plate, he says, but it’s something else to take an oxtail and “make something amazing out of it.”
While creativity is important to Harvey, he is also focused on his guests and their expectations. He maintains there’s a fine line between cooking to people rather than for them. “I continue to adapt to cooking the way our guests want to eat,” Harvey says.
He’s always looking for that balance of spice and flavor. “I also want to be more of a mentor to my team,” he says. “I want them to understand the ‘what’ and ‘whys’ of what we are doing. Otherwise, I have not set them up for success.” (Aimee L. Cook)
Hearth and Hill
1153 Center Drive, Park City
435-200-8840 | Hearth-hill.com
Well on her way
Now in her second year as a chef instructor at Utah Valley University, Lyn Wells has more experience under her belt than some chefs who have been in the industry for a decade.
After winning a competition that earned her a grant to work in any restaurant in the United States, Wells chose the world-renowned French Laundry in Napa, Calif.
“It was an amazing experience—probably one of the toughest jobs you could have in your life, just because everything had to be perfect,” Wells says. “They are always working to keep their Michelin stars [the Michelin Guide San Francisco awarded the restaurant its highest rating—three stars—for the 12th year in a row], so they won’t accept sub-par. It is a lot to handle, so if you have a bad day, they will remove you from the line and send you home.”
Having learned skills beyond cooking from that experience, Wells is in a constant state of upward mobility as she continues to enter international competitions and push herself outside her comfort zone. In 2016, Wells was awarded Best Young Chef in America by the world’s largest food-and-wine association, The Confrèrie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.
Wells’ family owns the Cowboy Club, a restaurant in Wellington, Utah, where she creates menus and weekend specials—and where locals line up to see what she has in store. “I want to just continue to push myself and continue to learn as I go,” she says. “I don’t want to ever just settle.”
Her motivation translates into her job of instructing culinary students. She’s in charge of the university’s Restaurant Forte where she changes the menu weekly and rotates students so they are always learning something new. “We take everything they have learned in the previous semesters and apply it to an actual restaurant setting,” she says, insuring that UVU’s culinary graduates are poised for success. (Aimee L. Cook)
Utah Valley University
UCCU Center main floor
800 W. University Parkway, Orem
In 2004, when a hurricane flooded Miami’s Les Halles restaurant kitchen with 8 inches of water, executive chef Paul Morello kept on cooking. “We put all the dish racks and milk crates on the floor and walked on those. The waiters wore galoshes. We were the only restaurant still open in Coral Gables.”
The hurricane story reveals Morello’s adaptability, a trait vital in a career that also included a stint as executive chef at the Washington, D.C., location of Les Halles. (Many recall that one of Les Halles’ New York City locations was the subject of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. All locations are now closed amid bankruptcy filings.)
A culinary arts graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, Morello moved to Utah to start a business with culinary friends who catered for the movie industry. He later created a line of delicacies such as cheeses, oils, vinegars and foie gras for his own business, ChefoodsUSA.com He distributed his gourmet foods to restaurants, including Tuscany, Le Caille and at Deer Valley resort.
The Store, an upscale Holladay market, was one of his best customers. “They bought a lot of product every week,” he says. The Store later bought his business, and he became their culinary director. Today, he creates entrees for the store such as beef bourguignon and macaroni and cheese with Hatch chilies and applewood bacon. “I bake up little lasagnas in 1- to 3-pound trays, and we sell them in our cases,” Morello says.
He’s currently applying his expertise launching a new Gateway location for The Store, slated to open July 1. He will create new menu items and provide office catering to the 5,000 workers within walking distance of the new location. His signature creations are often seafood dishes “with really nice sauces, such as steamed lobster with Sauternes and caviar beurre blanc, served with julienne vegetables.”
He enjoys the fact that many of those who have worked with him have gone far. “A former line cook is now a corporate chef at Marriott,” says Morello. Others work in Soho hotels in cities such as London and Dubai. “They all keep in touch with me,” Morello adds. It warms his heart when they write, “Chef, if it wasn’t for you, I would never be here.” (Carolyn Campbell)
The Store | 2050 E. 6200 South, Holladay
801-272-1212 | TheStoreUtah.com
The Pastry Professor
Roy Olsen has been baking since he was 9. He remembers standing on a milk crate and frying donuts for his family bakery from 5 a.m. until it was time to go to school. It was the most dangerous job in Olsen’s Bakery—and he loved it. He also loved watching his parents develop friendships with their customers.
Today, he gets great satisfaction seeing the joy on his customers’ faces as they eat a cardamom-spiced kouign-amann or a perfectly light croissant. It has been a long road from the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird, back when he was pastry chef at age 19, to opening his own bakery, Bake 360, with stops along the way at St. Regis Deer Valley and Normandie Café, among others.
His Draper bakery grew exponentially, selling $1 million worth of pastries a year, winning awards and fans. Olsen recently sold it (it’s now Gourmandise), but he didn’t stay retired for long. The 50-year-old is the executive pastry chef at the Park City Culinary Institute, teaching budding chefs and working professionals through hands-on courses so they can go straight to commercial kitchens upon graduation.
And he does it while sporting the tattoos he got upon retirement: a vividly colored cacao bean and sugar cane (for chocolate) on one forearm and a stalk of wheat and egg on the other (for cakes and breads). “This is how I made my living for the past 40 years,” he says.
What he loves? “Seeing smiles on people’s faces when they eat something that brings them so much pleasure.” (Heather May)
Park City Culinary Institute | 1484 S. State, SLC
801-413-2800 | ParkCityCulinaryInstitute.com
Vietnamese fine dining
“I’d like to beat my family at their own game,” says chef Tuan Vu of his mission to take a recipe made famous by his uncle, who started Pho Thin in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City and make it better. From his first teenage job in an Ogden mall food court to his formative years cooking under the mentorship of Mr. Cow at the Golden Wok and the Nguyen family at Cafe Trang, Tuan Vu has worked in restaurant kitchens since immigrating to the United States in 1985. In that time, “I really got to know how to use fire,” he says, of the specific skills needed for perfect stir-fries, a technique he used often as chef at Indochine Vietnamese Bistro.
Tuan Vu again returned to his traditional Vietnamese roots as chef at Saola in Cottonwood Heights, which opened early this year. With his wife, legendary SLC restaurateur Diem Nguyen, the team brings the bright and nuanced flavors of Vietnam’s three regions—northern, central and southern—to the table using locally sourced, high-quality ingredients such as free-range chicken and seasonal vegetables. Even the packaging for their carryout street-food menu (called Pho Pho Pho) is made with all recyclable and compostable materials. “We want to take it up five notches,” Nguyen says, which is evident from the sleek dining room and lounge to the exquisitely balanced beef pho broth that Tuan Vu asserts is even better than his uncle’s version. (Darby Doyle)
Saola | 7307 S. Canyon Centre Parkway, Cottonwood Heights
801-944-2949 | Saola-SLC.com
Aussie Boss Gathers No Moss
“I got the travel bug early,” says Deer Valley Resort executive chef Jodie Rogers of a year studying in Argentina as a teenager.
After finishing culinary school in her home country of Australia, Utah was her first stop on an around-the-world cooking and eating tour. Recruited by a friend who worked at Deer Valley, Rogers took a job at Snow Park 23 years ago and kept on coming back between gigs at venues from London to Thailand. She also got plenty of Olympic exposure, running the VIP corporate catering for Sydney’s 2000 Summer Games.
Rogers moved to Utah full time in 2002, becoming an executive chef at Deer Valley venues Snow Park and Empire Lodge where she is director of food and beverage. “There’s a little part of me at all the restaurants” at Deer Valley, Rogers says with a grin. Her team envisioned Deer Valley Café as a year-round take-out and dine-in stop in the mold of The Brass Tag, which she describes as “a hidden secret for locals,” especially in the summer. After catering a 2002 wedding with a raclette station, her team developed the concept of Fireside Dining. The four-course meal served from stone fireplaces is now considered a Deer Valley must-do.
Much beloved by the Park City community, Rogers serves on the Park City Restaurant Association board. She was selected to represent Deer Valley as one of five Park City chefs who together curated a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City last winter.
Of picking Utah as the spot to finally put down roots, Rogers says: “I’ve travelled the world, and this is the most beautiful place I’ve been.” (Darby Doyle)
Deer Valley Resort | 2250 Deer Valley Dr., Park City
435-649-1000 | DeerValley.com
Unlike most chefs who can create any menu they like and change it on a whim, Don Heidel—the executive chef at the storied and historic Alta Club in Salt Lake City—finds himself in a unique situation. Club members and their guests regularly fill dining rooms, often several times a week, all with certain dining expectations. Chef Heidel has to walk a culinary tightrope, balancing the traditions of the club, founded in 1883, with his natural inclination to keep things fresh and interesting.
“I’ve got multiple generations of members coming here,” he says. Some members expect to order foods they’ve been enjoying since the 1950s and ’60s. “Then, I have new members who want something more contemporary,” he says.
Originally from Hyde Park, N.Y., where he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, Heidel brings more than 37 years of experience working in private clubs and resorts across the country. He first came to Utah to helm the kitchens at Sundance and then Homestead Resort before joining the Alta Club in 2012.
With less emphasis on offering cutting-edge foods and techniques, Heidel says he focuses on sourcing and preparing high-quality food at the Alta Club.
“I get steaks from one ranch in Texas, and we do the butchering ourselves. I bring in fresh halibut from Norway when it’s not in season in the U.S. We’re making our own sausages, fresh pastas and stocks for soups and sauces,” he explains.
And while he makes some seasonal changes to the menu, offering weekly specials and dishes for special events, he’s still aware of the tradition that members expect.
“I have to have the borscht on the menu [a recipe from the historic Hotel Utah]. I have to have our club sandwich and steak sandwich and the shrimp cocktail. If I take those off, I’d be run out,” he says, with a smile.
Dining at the Alta Club is limited to members and invited guests. (Brian Fryer)
Alta Club | 100 E. South Temple, SLC
801-322-1081 | AltaClub.org
A culture of hospitality
True story: One of Phelix Gardner’s first jobs was performing as a rollerblading Buzz Lightyear character in Disney World parades. “I know it sounds weird,” Gardner says of his experience in Orlando, “but working for Disney really impressed upon me the culture of hospitality” and of bringing joy to people through engaging experiences of all kinds.
Although he was born in Spain and lived all over the world with his military family, many of Gardner’s foundational food memories come from Florida, where he spent his teen years and attended culinary school. “It’s satisfying,” he says of the region’s food. “Building from the idea of the traditional Southern larder is something we’re getting back to” at George, which was recently rebranded with a menu overhaul (replacing the formerly Spanish-forward Finca).
For summer menus, the executive chef is excited to pull from his love of the coastal seafood dishes of the Florida-Georgia border. Case in point: his seared fillet spin on the fried grouper sandwiches famous in the region, complete with cabbage slaw and remoulade. When he and Pago Restaurant Group President Scott Evans were reimagining George as a more casual American bistro and wine bar, the sandwich was one of the first items Gardner tackled.
As much as he’s excited to see his own nostalgic nod on the menu, Gardner will readily admit that the Bar George burger has been the hands-down crowd favorite. “It really speaks to our grounding philosophy of using everything,” says Gardner of incorporating whipped beef tallow (from bones roasted for stock) to add an unctuous and decadent flavor to the diced beef, which is topped with local cave-aged taleggio cheese. George’s sandwich surf vs. turf face-off has become the toughest decision of the season. (Darby Doyle)
George | 327 W. 200 South, SLC
801-487-0699 | GeorgeSLC.com