For the week of January 20, 1999   thru January 26, 1999  

A taste of Idaho for James Beard

Express Staff Writer

On Feb. 5, Keith Otter, Barbara Berry and Scott Wamsley will travel to New York City to accept the ultimate invitation.

In recognition of their outstanding culinary achievement, the chefs from Otter’s and Sun Valley Lodge will join with Coeur d’Alene Resorts’ executive chef, Rod Jessick, to create a menu embodying indigenous cuisine and crops in a "Taste of Idaho" at the James Beard Foundation.

Only the best of the best are asked to cook at the Greenwich Village brownstone once occupied by the legendary Beard. A crossroads of the food world it is a living memorial and center for the culinary arts dedicated to the work of the country’s most talented chefs, wine makers, authors, teachers, photographers and illustrators.

Without a doubt more great culinary artists–Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter–have cooked in this kitchen than any other in North America.

Veterans Barry and Otter were asked last year, and this year with Wamsley and Jessick have created an astonishing menu.

After nights out to sample each other’s menu the quartet decided upon dishes surrounding trout, lamb and of course potatoes.

"We talked about ideas and food," explained Barry, "to determine how we could best represent our state in a culinary way."

Then there was a cook-off, so to speak, with each chef entering a dish in the three categories.

"We all have strengths in different areas, said Otter, a noted saucier, "and we gathered the best of everything together."

"It was quite a feast and wine fest," said Barry.


It’s a long way from a brain-storming camping trip Barry and Otter took about three years ago.

"We had this pop-up camper," remembered Otter.

"We needed total, complete concentration so we went up in the mountains," Barry added. "There we were testing oil and cheese fondues over an open campfire.

"We had to decide what do we do that’s different than other restaurants in the area. What would be our concept. How would we define ourselves? We decided to feature foods indigenous to the Pacific Northwest and opened with caribou, rabbit, and wild mushroom salad, using our classical French training and food found in the Northwest."

A year later, Barry says: "we were discovered."

In "Altitude without Attitude" Bon Appetit magazine featured Barry on their cover page smiling atop Baldy a plate of food in one hand a pair of skis in the other.

"The rock shrimp cakes with a red bell pepper sauce strewn with crispy leeks were the tastiest fish cakes I had ever eaten," writes author and columnist Nancy Rommelmann. "The sea bass, seared to perfection, came in a pool of roasted shallot and garlic nage. My companion…couldn’t help but swoon over a generous helping of succulent squab bathed in a Maderia jus and served with morels and tiny pillows of wild rice gnocchi."

Discovered, indeed.


Otter who has worked as executive chef for Moss’s and Patina’s in Los Angeles and who studied under Julian Serrano who Steve Wynn has just named executive chef for his fantasy cum hotel Bellagio, shared with Barry a passion for food and wine.

Their unflinching dedication to bringing the best "boutique" wines to Idaho is a story in marketing savvy, high spirits and a never-say-die attitude.

Barry who holds an MA in bi-lingual education had only been in the food business three months when she and Otter decided to open their place. But once engaged, she gave 250 percent.

The two began to travel to the Napa Valley "making relationships" with vintners. These trips paid off and they were able to exclusively bring 15 wines into the Gem State.

"We had to educate them," explained Barry. "We got them to understand the kind of clientele we get. It’s turned into an amazing thing."

When a small vineyard in Northern California, Flowers won the top wine award for their Pinot Noir, Barry and Otter found it on the menu of a San Francisco café and ordered it for tasting.

"Flowers was only selling wine to a few restaurants," said Barry. "everyone told us: ‘Don’t bother. Don’t bother.’ The wine came and we were like Holy Cow there’s a phone number on the label."

Barry wasted no time whipping out her cell phone getting Joan Flowers on the phone almost immediately.

"I said ‘we own a restaurant in Sun Valley and we’d do anything to meet you.’ She said: ‘You can come but you’re far away.’"

Otter and Barry took to the road for a three and a half hour drive up the coast. It was dark. They got lost. When they came to a clearing they were shocked to see a massive estate where the Russian River meets the ocean 1200 feet up.

Flower’s Pinot Noir can now be found at Otter’s any night of the week.

"We only have one hold out," said Barry referring to Chalk Hill’s Botrytised Semillon, 1994, only sold in six restaurants in the U.S.


Otter’s has become well-known, throughout the country, for their wine and food pairings known as winemaker dinners. On Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Paul Hobbs considered one of the hottest young winemakers in Napa will attend a five-course meal created by Otter with wines specially selected from his Kunde Winery. The event is open to the public, but reservations are required.

Barry and Otter are big on ideas and when they go back to New York next month they will be visiting the Big Apple’s latest entries into fine dining searching out new ingredients, combinations and presentation.

Who knows what will find its way to the menu next? Anything goes, with Otter and Barry at the helm.


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