Feed Me…I’m Hungry writer Michelle Sandstrom also does some writing over at The Daily Meal. She recently had the pleasure of attending a press trip in Salt Lake City. Read on for a taste of her experiences.
The kitchen at Bambara, one of the finest upscale restaurants in the city of Salt Lake, is run by quite a character: Chef Nathan Powers. Powers is reserved but not shy. In fact, he’s quite witty when being interviewed. He is passionate about his food; and with more then 20 years experience in the kitchen, at several celebrated restaurants, he is an excellent choice to have at the helm of the restaurant.
Powers launched his culinary career early, while only two years into school at the Culinary Institute of America; on a dare. A classmate challenged him to call the famed Chef Mark Franz at Stars in San Francisco. Powers did, asking to do his externship at the high end restaurant. Though chefs in training at CIA do have the requirement to do an externship, it generally happens at the end of their studies. Despite this fact, Chef Franz accepted Powers on the spot, perhaps charmed by the bold approach. After his internship Powers did graduate from CIA, with honors, and then took a full-time position with Stars. From there Power’s meandering journey took him to Hawthorne Lane, Farallon, Moody’s Bistro, and Ethereal Private Chef Service. Eventually, after meeting his wife, who comes from Salt Lake, Powers found his way to Bambara.
Bambara is actually part of The Hotel Monaco Salt Lake, a Kimpton property. This boutique hotel chain is smaller then other well known high end chains like Hilton or Marriott, and as result is able to offer a more personalized, unique to each city, experience for guests. Part of that experience is a word class restaurant, housed in the same building as the hotel.
Some chefs of Power’s caliber might balk at working for a hotel restaurant rather then owning their own place but, Powers has a different perspective. “I have the best of both worlds. Good benefits and a steady paycheck but, I have complete creative control of the kitchen. It’s just like owing your own restaurant, without the headache. Even if I have to drink the Kimpton cool aide once in a while.” Powers jokingly told The Daily Meal.
In all seriousness Kimpton, who relies heavily on their people to provide guests with an extraordinary experience, does treat their staff well. Kimpton has been rated in the top 100 companies to work for by Fortune more then four times in the last several years. Their philosophy for handling personnel certainly seems to be paying off, the staff at both the Monaco and Bambara are fun, have a terrific sense of humor, and will bend over backwards to make your stay or dinning experience meet your every need.
Certainly in the case of Chef Powers, giving over creative control leads to great things. Power’s New American menu is spectacular and offers the perfect balance of known comfort foods and a little more exotic items: like bone marrow on toast topped with a runny egg. Everything on the menu fresh, made from local ingredients whenever possible and is expertly prepared.
Powers may have creative control he also wisely will listen to input from those around him. Gregarious PR Rep Karen Boe who represents both the hotel and Bambara tells a story of when Powers first become the chef for Bambara. Naturally he started re-designing the entire menu to make it his own. Though he originally was going to start completely fresh with every dish, he was convinced by Boe to keep the corn bisque with lump crab, beloved by Bambara customers. Boe told Powers if he removed the soup she would hold an elaborate funeral for the dish right on main street. Powers was convinced to keep the dish.
Powers did redesign the rest of the menu and it’s all fantastic: from wonderful starters like the blue cheese house cut chips, to main dishes like the riesling braised pork shoulder, to decadent desserts like the turtle ice cream sandwich. Once you visit Bambara, you’ll want to keep coming back, over and over again, so you can taste each one of Powers’s creations.
In the interest of full disclosure: this trip was fully paid for by Visit Salt Lake. However, any opinions expressed here are my own.