Currently Browsing: Chef Notes

Saigon Café in Driggs

Published in Chef Notes, Jackson Hole News & Guide, September 7, 2011
Shared by Chef Joseph Byers
Saigon Café

260 N. Main Street, Driggs, Idaho
Serving lunch M-F and dinner M-Sat


Chicken Skewers with Sweet Chili Glaze

Makes about 20 skewers

2   pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2   tablespoons fish sauce

2   tablespoons soy sauce

2   tablespoons light olive oil

2   tablespoons honey

3   teaspoons sesame oil

3   cloves garlic, minced

2   green onions, chopped

1   teaspoon fresh ground pepper

½  teaspoon salt

20 bamboo skewers

½  cup Asian sweet chili sauce (mix with 1 tablespoon peanut butter– optional)


Cut meat in strips about ½ inch thick by 1 ½ inch wide. Combine all ingredients, except the sweet chili sauce, in a bowl. Add chicken and mix well. Refrigerate for one hour. Meanwhile, soak the bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes or more. Remove meat from refrigerator and put on skewers. Grill skewers on the barbeque over medium-high until done.

After remove from the grill, brush with Asian sweet chili sauce and serve.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A quiet little surprise has appeared behind the Potato Curtain. It’s the Saigon Cafe. Who would ever have guessed that a Vietnamese Grill serving delicious food would one day open in Driggs, Idaho?

We experienced some exciting tastes and had a lovely evening there. We learned from our friendly conversation with Joseph Byers, the owner and executive chef and his wife, Crystal, who runs the front of the house. They opened July 2 with enough business that Byers sought help. Luckily for them they found Don Nguyen, a Vietnamese native and trained chef in Salt Lake City. He has moved to Driggs where he cooks side by side with Byers.

Byers cooking inspiration was his mother’s Saturday dinners for the family in Lewistown, Montana where he was born. The family moved to Southern California when he was young. Citing his Italian aunt’s influence on his tastes,  he started his kitchen experience as a teen at Godfather’s and La Cucina Italian Restaurants in Costa Mesa.

Amid diverse cultures and cuisines Byers discovered and pursued his interest in Italian, American and Vietmanese. With its layered influences of both French and Chinese the complexity of Vietnamese drew him to study for twenty-five years until he has become fluent in speaking and writing the language. He worked in a friend’s Cafe Arnold in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.

Upon his return to the United States in 2006, Byers moved to Jackson. He has cooked at Triangle X, Lost Creek Ranch and 3 Creek Ranch. It was while working at the Triangle X that he met his beloved wife Crystal. The sheriff officiated at their wedding exactly one year later. Now they have a daughter, Cheyenne and a son Westley.

Byers creativity has earned him an award in the 2008 Jackson Hole Chili Cookoff with key ingredients of buffalo meat, fire roasted peppers, fish sauce and Snake River Lager. Last year he won the Grill Master Beef Challenge in Driggs flavoring with oyster sauce and Greek yogurt.

Even though our chef has longed to open his own his own place, he gives much credit to his wife. “Crystal pushed me into taking the leap to open the restaurant,” Byers shared. “I tend to wait until the stars are aligned just right, and everything is perfect before doing something. I had been working on the idea and business plan for a year or so. Crystal came home one day after telling some friends about our idea of starting a small Vietnamese restaurant in Teton Valley, Idaho. She said, ‘We are going to open it. This is one of your dreams, so let’s just do it.’ ”

Ravenous upon arrival, we were offered some delicious appetizers to regain balance. The tender spring rolls of rice paper were filled with grilled chicken and shrimp plus greens, cucumber, cilantro, mint, carrots and rice noodles accompanied by a hoisin peanut dipping sauce. Delicately golden egg rolls with pork, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms, vegetables and mung bean noodles came with a sweet chili lime dipping sauce. We devoured them all in short order. The chicken wings were also quite delectable enhanced with roasted garlic in chili sauce. We didn’t get to the pot stickers, but there will be a next time.

Moving on to entrees we honored our vegetarian guest with a huge bowl of Pho, the popular broth dish rapidly gaining popularity in our country. Sometimes it contains beef and usually the broth is seasoned with roasted onion, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and smoked cardamom. Sides to add include basil, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, hoisin and Sriracha sauces. It is a satisfying deep mix of flavors.

The menu is small, which is appropriate for a tiny restaurant in its infant stages. Don’t do many things, do few things very well. This allowed the four of us to sample everything but the banh mi baguette sandwich that is served at lunch. We like leftovers and there were plenty. Each sandwich is served with mushroom onion pate, a choice of grilled chicken, lemongrass pork or grilled ratatouille of fire roasted squashes and tomatoes, topped off with cucumber, daikon, cilantro and jalapenos.

There is something inadequate in my vocabulary to describe in all of these dishes the complexity and pungent subtlety of the five elements of flavors. Each is a unique blend of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty. All are vibrant. I’ll tell you about the dishes, but you better go try them for yourselves.

The chicken, shrimp and cabbage salad comes with masses of crispy vegetables, honey lime chili vinaigrette, topped with roasted peanuts and fried shallots. The rice vermicelli salad has grilled chicken, lemongrass pork or tiger shrimp over rice noodles. As with the others, mounds of fresh vegetables and herbs augment the experience. I am now a big fan of lemongrass pork. Beef stew with baguette from 460° bakery brings out the French side of the cuisine. It is savory and wonderful.

Broken rice comes with a cup of pho. The meat choices already mentioned plus a slice of Vietnamese meatloaf, unusual and pleasing, accompany the broken rice. Great tastes. A tart green papaya salad samples a recipe from across the border with Laos made using a mortar and pestle to crush garlic, palm sugar, chiles, and grape tomatoes. Lime, shredded papaya, crab paste, fish sauce and ground dried shrimp complete the blend. It comes with grilled chicken and sticky rice.

As they await a liquor license you are welcome to bring your own refreshing beverages. They serve Jasmine tea, traditional iced coffees and sodas. Go visit and enjoy the nourishing feeling it gives you.


Jenny Lake Lodge

Published in Chef Notes, Jackson Hole News & Guide, August 24, 2011
Shared by Executive chef Vishwatej R Nath
Jenny Lake Lodge

Lavender Infused Panna Cotta

Serves 6

2 T         water

1 ¼ t         gelatin powder

2 c         whipping cream

¾ c         milk

¾ c         vanilla yogurt

1 t         vanilla extract

½ c         sugar

½ T         lavender buds


Heat milk just to boiling and drop in the lavender buds. Remove from heat and let infuse until the milk cools to room temperature. Strain the milk and throw away the buds.

Pour 2 tablespoons of water into a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let it stand until softened, about 15 minutes.

Whisk 1 cup cream, yogurt, and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Heat remaining 1 cup cream and 1/2 cup sugar in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and cream comes to simmer. Remove from heat. Add gelatin mixture, stirring to dissolve gelatin. Mix hot cream-gelatin mixture into yogurt mixture in bowl. Strain the mixture to make sure it is uniform. Divide mixture among six 3/4-cup ramekins or small cups, using about 1/2 cup for each. Refrigerate desserts uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

You may add any flavor or topping you are in the mood for, such as garnishing with berries and a spring of mint or whipped cream if you like.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

An evening sublime is the way to describe it, like going to heaven without dying. Lesser terms would be inaccurate reflections of our dinner at Jenny Lake Lodge. After a perfect summer day of touring Grand Teton National Park and a stroll by String Lake, it was a sanctuary to ease into the lodge with rocking chairs aligned on the porch facing the cathedral group of peaks.

We were seated with that same view across the wildflower studded meadow. A brief summer shower just after we were seated added a sparkle to the landscape of changing light.

Weeks before a pal of mine arrived for her first visit to Jackson Hole she was informed by a friend who has been here that the one thing she must do was dine at Jenny Lake Lodge. What a great idea. Every summer I seek out one dining experience in the parks. Why not go for the best?

Everyone from Levi Thorn, the director of marketing, who set up the event to the gracious treatment by all of the staff deserves praise. Executive chef Vishwatej R Nath has spectacular command of his artistry and culinary skills. As we dined we noticed a unique pace among all of the diners. There was an element of slow motion as each palate paused in the savoring of every taste.

Chef Nath was raised in Hyderabad, India. A city known as The City of Pearls, it is the capital of the state Andhra Pradesh, the crossroads of north and south. From a diverse background with a Roman Catholic mother and a Hindu father, he had the culinary experiences of both those cultures and their celebrations as well.

His mom might have ruled the kitchen, but his dad was a creative cook. That made cooking intriguing. His mother used to make apple wine and red wine for Christmas, plus Christmas pudding and chocolate fudge. Watching his parents and grandma cook and bake was pivotal. As there was no opportunity for cooking school, hotel management was the path.

After graduating with degrees in hotel and hospitality management in India and through a distance learning program from the Educational Institute of American Hotel & Lodging Association, Nath studied in Geneva, Switzerland at the Institut Hotelier Cesar Ritz at Le Bouveret. This center of European cultures was a gateway for exploring international cuisines.

Nath arrived in the United States in 2004 on a student exchange visa to study pastries. He was on a learning path at the Vail Marriott from that autumn until May of 2006, when he first came to the Jenny Lake Lodge. Continuing to gain skills, he has experienced aspects of Vail Resorts including banquet, pastry and sous chef positions in locations including the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas and the Boca Raton Pass Club in Florida.

An eye for detail and perfection, plus his skills as a leader brought Chef Vishu the position of Executive Chef of Grand Teton Lodge Company in May of last year. “Grand Teton National Park is a spectacular stage. The winters are cold and very quiet. During the season we have 120 days and serve 9000 meals.” About his philosophy Nath shared, “Keep it short and simple. Food is something that looks, smells and tastes good.”

Our first taste was day boat scallop with a slaw of fennel, blood orange and micro greens. It got our attention right away. The four starters were a wild mushroom papardelle with parmesan beurre fondue and aged gruyere so smooth plus perfectly seared wild caught prawns with a cannellini bean ragout of uncanny flavor balance. Spiced duck prosciutto took us by surprise, it was so good with marinated asparagus and a delicate mustard sauce. Roasted beet tartare with apple vinaigrette, candied walnuts and ricotta salata was just the right counterpoint, cool, tart, striking.

Both soups were extremely pleasing: wild mushroom brie bisque with VSOP cognac creme fraiche and a butternut squash, smooth and silky. The signature salad of organic greens, dried tart cherries and glazed pecans had just a whisper of red onion vinaigrette. The grilled romaine hearts Caesar had us wide eyed with its presentation of powdered olive oil and anchovy foam. The classic dressing was superlative.

The grilled elk chop could not have been improved. Accompanied by sage spaetzle, huckleberry port sauce and crispy onions, the aspects of flavor and texture convolved to explode on my taste buds. The chicken roulade was another surprise. It’s just chicken, right? Not at all. The pounded and rolled breast filled with sun dried tomatoes, spinach, mozzarella and prosciutto was tender and moist. The creamy mascapone polenta and chasseur sauce added to its charm.

When we were served a lavender infused panna cotta with ripe summer berries my buddy said, “This puts me in a very happy place.” A tiny box of hand made truffles to take home took it over the top. I’ve never had a better meal.

Chef Vishu shared “During the summer I don’t take any days off, but most days I take some time to kayak on the lake.” All must conspire to keep him in just the right state of serenity.


Aspen’s Market

Published in Chef Notes, Jackson Hole News & Guide, August 10, 2011
Shared by Chef Joel Cox
Aspen’s Market


Dustin Varga’s Mustard Spiked Brussels Sprouts

3 lb Brussels Sprouts, washed and trimmed

2         red bell peppers, cleaned cut in thin strips

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 T          butter

3 T          stone ground mustard

juice of 1 lemon, or to taste

3 T          EVOO

¼ c          white wine (optional)

1 t          chili flakes

3 T          salt

In a large pot bring wine, chili flakes, 1 T EVOO, salt and 4 quarts water to boil. Add Brussels, stir and poach approximately 6 minutes. Remove and place in ice bath. Saute the garlic in the butter until golden. Place drained Brussels, peppers, lemon juice, mustard, garlic butter, and remaining EVOO toss well. Spread onto baking sheet and roast in 375° oven for 10-15minutes, until tender and golden. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This dish has a quite a following here and I think people would really enjoy it! It makes a perfect side for roasted chicken. Here is how we do our roasted chickens


One whole natural bird 3.5-4 lbs, cleaned of excess fat and trussed

1 t          chopped fresh rosemary

2 t          chopped fresh thyme

1 t          chopped fresh sage

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T          EVOO

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425°. Season bird with salt. Mix remaining ingredients together, rub bird with goods including inside the cavity. Place in roasting pan uncovered. Put in oven for 10 minutes, then check. After it begins to take on color, reduce oven temp to 325° and continue to cook for about 20 minutes. If color begins to get too dark cover with foil. When the temperature of the bird reaches 165° remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Carve and enjoy.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ah, how wonderful to be young and a perfectionist. I am filled with admiration for Joel Cox, the butcher and chef at the new Aspens Market. Together with the Reids, who own the market, they have been doing a great job at creating their new place. It’s fresh and streamlined, a grocer, butcher and deli, filled with interesting, quality ingredients and products.

Cox formative childhood memories are of his time in his grandparents’ world on the Tulalip Indian Reservation north of Seattle. It was their way of life to grow and gather foods, hunt, fish and live from the land. That set the stage for the strong desire in his professional life to source ingredients and create the purist foods possible.

The culinary program at the local community college was Cox’s educational path and from there to his first job at Olive’s Wine Bar. He worked from 2003 to 2005 in Seattle at Jonathan Sunstrum’s Lark restaurant.

From there Cox found a new inspiration. On Vachon Island at Kurtwood Farms he spent 5 years helping grow their farm dinners. Every Sunday, rain or shine, the staff created a local sustainable feast of 9 courses. The chefs did utilize a few staples such as salt, pepper, flour and sugar. Everything else was created from scratch from the surroundings of the farm and the island.

Dinners started with 20 guests. They grew by word of mouth networking. Folks had to be introduced and brought to the events by those who had already attended. The momentum was astounding and after 5 years the adventure reached its end.

Before landing in Jackson Hole this winter to help with the new market, Cox has been inspired by and involved with Brady Lowe’s Cuchon555, a ten city tour of culinary events involving chefs, wineries and heritage hogs. He also spent 8 months in Italy learning the art of butchering.

One of the Aspens Market’s contribution to the lofty benefit for Vertical Harvest last week on top of the town parking garage was Cox’s porchetta. Porchetta  is a skin-on mid section of a pig that is boned, spiced with rosemary, garlic, lots of fennel pollen, chili flakes, salt and pepper. The loin is rolled inside the belly to keep it moist, tied tight with butcher’s twine, covered, and baked in a hot oven for a few hours.

“Good food takes time,” Cox shared, “Since the market opened March 8 it seems we have been scrambling to catch up. The goal is to create everything as sustainably as possible.” They bring in whole hogs and steers from the Robinson Family Farm. One of the chef’s hopes is that their meat program becomes known as a destination. Nothing is prepackaged. Fresh ground burger is easy to discern. The steaks and roasts are the best I have seen. I can hardly wait for the occasion to bring some home.

They are featuring specials such as Taco Tuesdays with pork carnitas, a fabulous and tasty bargain. Cox is loves to interact with customers and was thrilled when a customer recently recognized his Tomahawk steak cut. Benton’s Bacon has a dense smoky flavor. Cox’s house made sausages of 3 varieties were all flavorful and extremely lean. His ragu is divinely inspired.

Cox said that his goal is to streamline, and yet they are making everything including their own mayonnaise from scratch. He gives great credit to Dustin Varga, the prepared salads guru of their deli, who has broad experience in grocery.

I have sampled many of the products. The delicious tuna salad starts with fresh albacore. They roast the chickens that are transformed into their tasty chicken salad with pecans, celery and grapes. The Kasmiri black rice salad delighted my palate. The hummus was especially well seasoned with a creamy texture. The list of palate pleasing choices is large including a roasted beet salad, wheat berries with veggies, quinoa, and a selection of vegetables such as grilled asparagus, broccolini with lemon zest and red pepper flakes and green beans with miso.

I hope the new Aspens Market is well supported in their desire to bring our valley incredible quality culinary delights.