Growing up just outside Boston, with memories of clamming and catching fresh fish for dinner off the bridges of Cape Cod, Chef Ken Pratt used to wonder what he was going to do in the high desert of Idaho. “On a recent trip to see my parents,” Pratt says, “I made it clear I would be looking for the best whole belly butter clam, and eat enough to sustain me—in memory at least—until my next trip.”
In Sun Valley, ID, where Chef Pratt now hangs his toque, menus tend toward farm to table ideology. But you can’t take New England out of his thoughts.
“We all probably have these little nuances of missed and forgotten loves when it comes to food,” the chef opines. “This is what drives us as chefs, to create dishes that spark those brain neurons of pleasure that we remember from childhood and carry forever—no matter where we end up on the planet. That’s what makes us who we are! Recreating that feeling gives us pleasure and a strong sense of being.”
High desert hopes
When first speaking with the chef, he had just wrapped up cooking for a 150-person opening event at Sun Valley Resort for FaBLE. This is no small feat: FaBLE is a boutique invitation-only event for top food industry leaders, so the meal had to hit on all cylinders. The menu featured a seafood buffet including Alaska smoked salmon lox, black cod with truffle butter, seared weathervane scallops with wasabi cream, and a cedar plank King salmon with Meyer lemon and chervil beurre blanc, among others.
For the chef’s day-to-day work, challenges arise when planning menus as early as six months out all with hoping the fish are running or the May rains don’t wash out a crop. “Even in the high desert of Idaho,” says Chef, “we need to find key ingredients to cover those soft seasons to ensure that the clients are getting the best possible product at that time of year. We have now been able to expand our menu selections to include many items I would have been very wary of before, wild Alaska weathervane scallops being one.”
At a year round destination resort like Sun Valley, guests like to choose the kinds of flavors for their special events they are familiar with, says the chef. But many also want a true Idaho experience. Pratt cites ingredients such as local lamb, Buhl trout, steelhead, sturgeon from the Snake River, beef from Snake River Farms, locally foraged mushrooms, onions, and potatoes of all kind and preparation; melons, cherries, huckleberries, and local cheeses. With all this comes a down side, however: available quantities and price. “In the catering world (as we all know),” Chef says, “menus are priced and often selected a year in advance and the number of guests can be raised or lowered, so a chef’s best friend is a consistent product to work with that reflects the menu focus and a price that can be guaranteed many months in advance.”
Following are two recipes from the chef, served at the FaBLE dinner.
Seared Alaska Weathervane Scallops
with English Pea purée
Yield: Two servings
1 cup fresh peas, blanched
¼ cup chickpeas, drained and roasted in olive oil
6 large Alaska weathervane scallops
1 Tbsp white wine
1 Tbsp yuzu juice
½ cup water
½ cup heavy cream
2 basil leaves
4 mint leaves
1/3 cup crème fraiche
1 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
1. Blanch peas and roast chickpeas
2. Sear dry seasoned scallops in canola oil, add butter to finish, remove scallops to rest
3. Deglaze pan with white wine and yuzu juice
4. Add water and heavy cream and reduce by half
5. Transfer peas to blender, add chickpeas, blend with all remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning, sprinkle with volcanic salt at serving.
Baby Bliss Potatoes
with Tomato Smoked Wild Alaska Salmon Mousse, Chile Aioli
6 baby bliss potatoes
1 cup chopped Wild Alaska smoked salmon
1 shallot, minced
1/3 cup unsweetened heavy cream whipped (stiff peak)
1/3 cup cream cheese or other soft cheese
1 Tbsp chopped sundried or marinated tomatoes
½ Tbsp lemon zest
½ Tbsp lemon juice, fresh
Salt and pepper
1. Blanch potatoes slowly and air cool, cut in half (top to bottom) and even the bottom.
2. Scoop out center to make room for mousse
3. Place shallot and cream cheese in food processor, blend smooth, add tomato and zest, fold into cream and season well.
1 egg yolk
1 tsp chipotle paste
1 tsp coriander toasted and ground
2/3 cup+ canola oil
Salt and pepper
½ tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice, fresh
1. Slowly whip oil into yolk, add chipotle paste, coriander, lemon zest, and lemon juice
2. Season and top mousse and chopped salmon. Finish with fried Peruvian purple potato slice.