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 come back to his roots in the form of The Lakehouse.
Originally from Tooele, she grew up searching for wild foods and exploring the mountains. His family fed on juniper, white sage, rabbit bush, 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 is a major disconnect that has occurred between convenience and industry.
“[Foraging] is part of who we are, ”Stanger said. “We didn’t know people don’t really do that sort 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 is a major disconnect that has occurred between convenience and industry. People forget how much amazing things we have around us.
A mentor, Maxine Grimm, embodied the importance and art of connecting to the land and growing your own food. Grimm cultivated his green vegetables, his nuts, his cattle, his gardens and fished his own fish.
Later, Stanger’s family moved to Mammoth. Nearby, his mother opened the Gold Diggers restaurant in a historic building in Eureka. The restaurant offered home-cooked, local comfort food and gave Stanger his first glimpse into the restaurant world.
“I learned a lot about the community and the importance of having food in the community that is not fast food,” she said.
At 20, Stanger moved to Arizona to experience life outside Utah and be closer to his sister, serving in the military. During her tenure in Arizona, she worked in restaurants, where she learned the ins and outs of the industry from master chefs. She went further and studied the land and the desert foods that surrounded her. The food scene and its contributors were curious and open to new types of food, which Stanger says has helped her learn and grow.
“I was the executive chef at a few different restaurants,” Stanger said. “We were at the forefront of making Arizona food distinctive, and I searched for food there a lot. I have worked with many Indigenous communities and the Department of Education to work with children trying to bring these [native] food in the community. You have to start at the bottom, not the top, with education. Educate them when they are young so that more people adopt these foods as they get older and make them normal. I want to do it here too eventually.
Brad Wagstaff, owner of The Lakehouse property, spoke with Stanger about becoming the executive chef and opening a remarkable restaurant for some time before she agreed to return.
Stanger was foraging for food with his daughter on a visit to Arizona and thought to himself, “It’s a shame this food isn’t celebrated more. There are chefs here who do it, but the scene is unrecognized in Utah, and I think it should be because farming is so amazing. I have dived deep into this, using a lot of things that I grew up with the types of food that I grew up with, and I want to share the wild game and farming in the area.
Stanger, the Wagstaff family, and Restaurant General Manager / Marketing Professional JD McLelland got to work to open the restaurant. The building was originally intended for Wagstaffs and local children to have summer jobs selling boat rentals and gear and hanging on to burgers and tacos. Then they renovated the building into a modern and comfortable restaurant.
She feels that many people have lost touch with food and the art of farming. Naturally, with everything prepackaged and based on convenience, it’s easy to allow that disconnect to form and grow when life is so fast. Stanger hopes to shed light on Utah’s unique agriculture and educate visitors and residents of Utah about its rich food and history.
We want to make Utah food distinctive, and we also want to change the idea that it’s just green jelly and fried sauce, although I like 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 on this [our native] food is; this is our mission. We want this to be the destination place when someone from out of state comes and wants to experience Utah. We want to make Utah food distinctive, and we also want to change the idea that it’s just green jelly and fried sauce, although I like some of those things! But it’s so much more than that. We really believe that, especially in this region, like Park City, Sundance, Heber, and Salt Lake City, our food scene can hold up to metropolitan areas across the country for food. People travel for food; we want it to become here.
It focuses on locally sourced and affordable ingredients. The menu was not created for high class foodies; it’s for everyone. Utah corn, squash, wild game, fruit from the vineyard, and vegetables from the garden share the lead 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 the availability of ingredients. In her retired life (far from it), she hopes to open a pie shop to follow her true love of baking. See below for one of his spectacular pie recipes.
The menus will change with the seasons and the Lakehouse intends to host educational and delicious events and collaborations in the future. The Lakehouse is open Wednesday to Sunday from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Friday to Sunday for brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Whiskey tart with black nuts, chocolate and blue corn
Crust: In a food processor, mix:
1 T all-purpose flour
¼ C Finely ground black walnuts
1 teaspoon of sugar
tsp of salt
½ cup cubed butter
2 T of cold water
Pulse until a ball forms, then remove and press into a 12-inch pie plate.
Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
1 cup of sugar
C Black Corn Syrup
½ teaspoon of vanilla
3 C blue corn whiskey
tsp of salt
C Melted Butter
2 ounces of bitter dark chocolate
2 cups black walnuts, coarsely chopped
Beat the eggs until frothy and add the sugar, continuing to beat until fluffy. Stir in the corn syrup, vanilla, whiskey and salt.
Melt the butter and stir in the chocolate until smooth and melted.
Beat together the egg and the butter mixture.
Garnish the bottom of the pie crust with nuts. Garnish with the pastry cream mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes until the center is set.
Serve with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and a good drizzle of whiskey.