HEBER CITY, Utah. – Executive Chef Tamara Stanger of The Lakehouse at Deer Creek Reservoir is no stranger to Utah or its agriculture. After 20 years in the Phoenix, Arizona area, opening restaurants, Stanger has her homecoming in the form of The Lakehouse.
Originally from Tooele, she grew up foraging wild foods and exploring the mountains. Her family foraged for juniper, white sage, rabbitbrush, just to name a few.
Where I grew up, a lot of people used the resources around them. Now, I don’t see a lot of people doing it anymore. I think there’s a major disconnect that’s happened through convenience and industry.
“[Foraging] is part of who we are,” said Stanger. “We didn’t know that people don’t really do that kind of thing. Where I grew up, a lot of people used the resources around them. Now, I don’t see a lot of people doing it anymore. I think there’s a major disconnect that’s happened through convenience and industry. People forget how much amazing stuff we have around us.”
A mentor, Maxine Grimm, embodied the importance and art of connection to the earth and growing your own food. Grimm grew her greens, nuts, cattle, gardens and caught her own fish.
Later, Stanger’s family moved to Mammoth. Not far away, her mom opened Gold Diggers restaurant in a historic building in Eureka. The restaurant offered homemade local comfort foods and gave Stanger her first look into the restaurant world.
“I learned a lot about community and how important it is to have food in the community that isn’t fast food,” she said.
When she was 20, Stanger moved to Arizona to experience life outside Utah and be nearer to her sister, serving in the military. During her tenure in Arizona, she worked at restaurants, where she learned the ins and outs of the industry under masterful chefs. She went further and studied the terroir and desert foods that surrounded her. The culinary scene and its contributors were curious and open to new types of food, which Stanger stated helped her learn and grow.
“I was the executive chef at a couple of different restaurants,” Stanger said. “We were on the forefront of making Arizona food distinctive, and I did a lot of foraging out there. I worked with many indigenous communities and the Department of Education to work with kids trying to bring those [native] foods into the community. You need to start at the bottom, not at the top, with education. Educate them when they’re young so more people will embrace those foods as they get older and make them normal. I want to do that here too eventually.”
Brad Wagstaff, owner of The Lakehouse property, talked with Stanger about becoming the executive chef and opening a noteworthy restaurant for a while before she agreed to come back.
Stanger was out foraging with her daughter during a visit from Arizona and thought, “it’s a shame that this food isn’t celebrated more. There are chefs here doing it, but the scene isn’t recognized in Utah, and I think it should be because the agriculture is so incredible. I dove deep into that, using a lot of stuff that I grew up with the types of food that I grew up with, and I want to share the wild game and agriculture from the area.”
Stanger, the Wagstaff family, and general manager/restaurant marketing professional JD McLelland got to work on opening the restaurant. The building was initially intended for the Wagstaff’s and local kids to have summer jobs to sell boating rentals and equipment and sling around some hamburgers and tacos. Then, they refurbished the building into a cozy modern restaurant.
She feels that many people have lost touch with food and the art of agriculture. Understandably so, with everything pre-packaged and based on convenience, it’s easy to allow that disconnect to form and grow when life is so fast-paced. Stanger hopes to shed light on Utah’s unique agriculture and educate visitors and Utahns about its rich food and history.
We want to make Utah food distinctive, and we also want to change the idea that it’s only green Jell-O and fry sauce, even though I love some of those things! But it’s so much more than that.
“We want to make a change here in Utah and educate a lot of people about what [our native] food is; that’s our mission. We want this to be the destination place when someone from out of state comes, and they want to experience Utah. We want to make Utah food distinctive, and we also want to change the idea that it’s only green Jell-O and fry sauce, even though I love some of those things! But it’s so much more than that. We really think that, especially in this area, like Park City, Sundance, Heber, and Salt Lake City, our food scene can hold up to metropolitan areas around the country for food. People travel for food; we want that to become here.”
She focuses on locally sourced, approachable ingredients. The menu wassn’t created for high-class foodies; it’s for everyone. Utah corn, squash, wild game, vineyard fruits, and garden vegetables share the starring role for each intentional dish.
Stanger also offers around three to five homemade desserts at any given time. Like the main menu, the options change with the seasons and availability of ingredients. In her retired life (a ways away), she hopes to open a pie shop to follow her true love of baking. See below for one of her spectacular pie recipes.
Menus will change by the season, and the Lakehouse intends on hosting educational and delicious events and collaborations in the future. The Lakehouse is open Wednesday through Sunday from 4:00 to 9:00 PM and Friday to Sunday for brunch from 10:30 AM to 3:00 PM.
Black Walnut, Chocolate, & Blue Corn Whiskey Pie
Crust: In a food processor, combine:
1 C All-Purpose Flour
¼ C Finely Ground Black Walnuts
1 T Sugar
¼ tsp Salt
½ C Cubed Butter
2 T Cold Water
Pulse until a ball is formed, then remove and press into a 12” pie plate.
Chill for at least 30 minutes.
1 C Sugar
¾ C Dark Corn Syrup
½ tsp Vanilla
3 T Blue Corn Whiskey
¼ tsp Salt
¼ C Melted Butter
2 oz Bitter Dark Chocolate
2 C Black Walnuts, coarsely chopped
Beat eggs until frothy and add sugar, continuing to beat until fluffy. Stir in corn syrup, vanilla, whiskey, and salt.
Melt butter and stir in chocolate until it is smooth and melted.
Whisk together egg and butter mix.
Fill the bottom of the pie crust with walnuts. Top with custard mix.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes until set in the center.
Serve with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and a neat pour of whiskey.