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Utah's Great Chef Migration

Published: 01/06/2007

Dining options in Salt Lake have blossomed over the past decade, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them are the growing availability of local organic produce, a full range of fresh, quality ingredients, and an influx of well-traveled chefs who are making a delicious difference as they add excitement and energy to the city's menus. Though there are numerous chefs that have migrated to the Salt Lake valley, meet four recent transplants:

Robert Barker, Executive Chef, Bambara landed in Utah by way of New Orleans restaurants Emeril's, Arnaud's, and Louis XVI, and Sazerac and Demi Epicurious in Austin, Texas. Also a veteran of a few Wolfgang Puck properties, he rode into town in his favorite restored '72 Chevy SS Nova with visions of plump oyster shooters with toasted corn and carrot ginger bisque in his head. Salt Lake ate it all up—with relish. Though he used to order produce from Chef's Garden in Ohio, Barker rapidly emigrated to local produce and his favorite, free-range Morgan Valley Lamb. The opportunities to ski and raise his family in a "hassle-free" place drew him to Salt Lake.

Kurtis Baguely, Executive Pastry Chef, The Grand America Hotel makes a sourdough baguette that transports your senses straight to San Francisco as the chewy crust gives way to an unmistakable tang and warm, yeasty fragrance. It's no fluke to find this heavenly dough in Salt Lake. Baguely, a former chef/pastry instructor at the California Culinary Academy, studied with masters such as Steve Sullivan of the Acme Bread Company in Berkley, and counts Rose Levy Birinbaum and Flo Braker, two of the country's most revered bakers, among his closest friends. While his breads and pastries garnered rave reviews at Scala's Bistro, Silks, and the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco, Salt Lake's own "four seasons" drew Baguely to the high-altitude city where he now presides over the city's grandest pastry kitchen.

Franck Piessel, Executive Chef of Salt Lake’s newest fine dining destination, Franck’s is as French as his popular moules meuniere with the perfect frites. As a young boy, his aunts in Bordeaux schooled him in the ways of tart shells and gratins and awakened his passion for great ingredients. Trained formally at La Cigale, L'Escinade, and Auberge Saint Donat in Sainte Maxime, Piessel went on to cook at Le Moulin de Lourmarin and Auberge de L'Eridan.
From there, Piessel moved to New York's Park Bistro, where the owners of L'Avenue (now closed) tasted his food and enticed him to take charge of their authentically furnished French bistro in Salt Lake. Knowing he could indulge his love of hiking, biking, and skiing while creating his own menus, Franck headed west. Though he still looks to Thuries Magazine Gastronomie for inspiration, Piessel is a devotee of local products and is thrilled to find daily shipments of fresh fish that meet his exacting standards. Franck’s, opened in Fall 2005, was created as an intimate 50-seat showcase for Piessel’s skills, complete with an exhibition kitchen.

Jeffrey Russell, Executive Chef, The Grand America Hotel is a Salt Lake native who left for the joy of studying and cooking in San Francisco, Seattle, and Spain, then chose to return to be near his family and the opportunity to cook. Along the way, mentor Roland Passot of La Folie in San Francisco taught him to "work clean, work organized and use my imagination." While studying in coastal San Sebastian, Smith happened upon Eloy Lanziego and ended up cooking in that acclaimed Basque restaurant as well as Arzak and Urepel. His sophisticated culinary worldview now finds expression at the Grand America's Garden Café where Smith serves as many fresh local ingredients as possible. The Grand America Hotel is one of two AAA Five Diamond properties in Utah.

The Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau is a private, non-profit corporation responsible for the promotion of Salt Lake as a convention and travel destination. Salt Lake is a unique fusion of metropolitan city and quaint mountain town; the towering Wasatch Mountains that embrace Salt Lake offer a dramatic backdrop to the vibrancy and activities of downtown. Having recently undergone a $58 million expansion, the Salt Palace Convention Center now boasts 679,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space, ideal for groups of all sizes and needs. For more information on all that Salt Lake has to offer, visit