If any Utah restaurateur can articulate the exponential benefits of eating local, it’s Blake Spalding. Co-owner with Chef Jen Castle of Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, she and Jen live to “exalt the food of the place.” In the heart of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in one of the country’s most remote towns, this is no simple proposition.
At the monthly Social Soup Lecture Series presented by Utahns Against Hunger and the University of Utah on Jan. 30, Spalding told the story of how, 13 years ago, after catering river trips and movies shot in exotic locales, she and Castle decided to take over a restaurant in a tiny pioneer town with a meager local “food shed.” Land dedicated to corn-fed cattle, with a few deserted orchards, no dairies and no working farms did not bode well for cooks who were determined to serve sustainable, local food.
“People were incredulous when we said that was our goal,” Spalding said. “But I was even more incredulous when I thought about serving food from far away. When you go to Italy, you are eating Italy. Period. That’s what we wanted for our place.”
So, Spalding and Castle planted a garden. They found local ranchers who agreed to grass-finish their cattle and sell the meat to Hell’s Backbone. They helped revive and care for abandoned fruit orchards in trade for the fruit, and tapped into the expertise of Relief Society women who put up preserves. They hired local kids.
Fast-forward through some lean years, and they started getting national praise from The New York Times and O Magazine, among others. In addition to building a farm, they’ve now built a community.
The irony is, with a location between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, these local heroes are better known to visitors than to Utahns. Hell’s Backbone reopens for the season March 15. Reserve a table now, and go taste the place for yourself.
HELL'S BACKBONE GRILL
20 N. Highway 12, Boulder