Food is a growing passion in Boise. Just witness the Foodfort panel discussions during Treefort last month, where topics such as “What is Local” and discussions on Idaho wine drew standing-room-only crowds.
Boise diners are seeking intriguing cuisine more regularly, giving rise to a dynamic food scene that is filled with a delicious blend of old-world traditions, modernist culinary techniques and local food sourcing.
And the state is getting noticed for it. In the past eight years, several Idaho chefs have become semifinalists for the prestigious James Beard Foundation award, one of the top culinary honors in the country.
While an Idaho chef hasn’t moved beyond the semifinalist phase because of the state’s isolation and its low number of eligible James Beard voters, the honor boosts business and adds an aura to the chef’s reputation.
This year, Kris Komori, chef de cuisine at State & Lemp, was a semifinalist for Best Chef Northwest. Moshit Mizrachi-Gabbitas, baker and co-owner of Janjou Pâtisserie, received a nod for Outstanding Baker by the internationally renowned organization.
Both of these deeply talented culinary artists stir passion into every recipe and choose to cook up their magic in Boise.
State & Lemp’s Kris Komori
There are those who thought a restaurant like State & Lemp wouldn’t make it in Boise. The Northwest Boise restaurant serves a sophisticated fixed-price tasting menu using modernist gastronomic techniques with limited seating and a fairly spendy price. But the culinary wizardry whipped up by chef de cuisine Komori and co-owner Jay Henry offers a taste of magic that has caught on with local diners.
Komori’s inventive and often surprising approach to food and flavor is fueled by a wide variety of inspirations that creates a seamless dining experience that sparks a diner’s senses.
Tiziana Lancedelli, co-owner of Boise’s culinary company Fuel for the Soul with husband, Joel Marx, tries to dine there as often as she can.
“It’s so above and beyond what’s happening here,” Lancedelli says. “His (Komori’s) flavor combinations, presentation — the dehydrated pineapple, or whatever he’s doing — no one else comes close.”
Komori’s James Beard nomination has drawn more attention to the already popular restaurant, which was already filling its dinner seatings prior to the award’s announcement. Now, it’s getting more bookings for private events, has a waiting list of wineries and breweries wanting to collaborate, and is booking dinners weeks in advance.
Komori , 32, rides his bicycle to work nearly every day from his North End home to State & Lemp, 2870 W. State St. He sometimes forages for cherry-blossom garnishes and sprigs of random herbs and plants growing in yards, meeting his neighbors along the way.
Originally from British Columbia, Komori first came to Idaho to attend then-Albertson College, now The College of Idaho, where he earned a degree in biology with the intention of going to medical school. While there, he met his wife, Allyson, who grew up in Stanley. He worked his way through college at The Mona Lisa, a now defunct fine-dining fondue restaurant in Nampa. After starting out as a dishwasher, he eventually became the manager.
After graduation in 2005, he hopped around the Boise restaurant scene before going to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. He and Allyson eventually met up again in Portland, where they married four years ago. Kris honed his culinary skills at Park Kitchen and Allyson finished medical school. They moved back to Idaho three years ago for Allyson’s residency at the Idaho Veterans Administration Medical Center in internal medicine. (Fortunately for Boise diners, Allyson recently took a position with St. Luke’s Medical Center.)
“We were so lucky to be able to come here,” Komori says. “Portland was a great place as a young chef to learn, but it’s saturated now. It’s hard to get an opportunity there. I’ve met a lot of chefs moving here from larger cities. There’s always been talent here, and it’s exciting that there’s a larger pool of experienced cooks who are driven.”
Komori was working at Sweet Valley Organics in Gem County, producing its seasonal farm-to-fork dinners and working the area farmers markets. That’s when he encountered State & Lemp co-owners Remi McManus and Jay Henry, who at the time were doing their own mobile dining project and preparing to open a fine-dining restaurant.
The three clicked, and Komori helped launch State & Lemp in 2013. Since then it has grown in stature, with its clever and creative menu that tantalizes his audience in both presentation and taste.
Komori approaches food like an artist. His ideas are sparked by inspirations that can range from an ingredient, such as wild-foraged early spring nettles, or the idea for a recent Easter brunch.
That dish featured eggs, chocolate, coffee and the three kinds of rabbit. For the chocolate, he used cacao nibs, a form of pure, unsweetened chocolate “that adds a nice bitterness,” Komori says. But coffee?
“As we were developing the dish, I was talking to Grant (Shealy) at Neckar Coffee, and we came up with this idea,” he says.
Komori infused oil with spent Neckar grounds. (The company does a simple pour-over technique to brew an intense cuppa.) Then he strained out the grounds and poached egg yolks in the coffee oil.
“Not only does it get the coffee flavor into the egg but it adds color, so it comes out looking like a Cadbury egg,” he says. “Then when you break the yolk, it comes out bright yellow. It’s really cool.”
To top it off, he infused grapefruit sections with kava, then carbonated it. “It bubbles when you bite it,” he says.
Komori’s food philosophy is continually evolving, he says.
“I’m starting to think about micro seasons,” Komori says. “Each plant has different stages. It’s cool to watch. So, take fava beans. Before the beans start to grow, the leaves are young and tender, like pea shoots. They’re delicious. Then, the plant changes, and you get the heartier beans in the fall. Things we can forage for, like miner’s lettuce, wild watercress and nettles, are only around for a short time, and we want to capitalize on them.”
His palate and the restaurant’s menus also are shifting to become more vegetable-centric. That drives the idea of seasons even more clearly, he says, and it’s a healthier way to eat.
“Now, a lot of the dishes we do — I don’t want to say educate people — but they showcase things people should know about. We can pull back from the heavy proteins,” he says. “It’s not necessary in the diet. We’re trying to change our own eating habits and that’s affecting the restaurant.”
Janjou’s Moshit Mizrachi-Gabbitas
For Moshit Mizrachi-Gabbitas, co-owner of Boise’s Janjou Pâtisserie, croissants are the gold standard of her profession. The buttery treats take three days to make. On the first day, you make the dough, then you let it rest overnight and ferment. The next day, you incorporate the butter by twice folding it into the dough. You then let it rest overnight. The third day, you fold, roll, shape and bake.
“I like to make all the fancy cakes, with the mousse and the frosting, but I don’t eat them,” she says. “It’s too much. One bite, and I’m good. I like to eat, and I like to make croissants. I’m fascinated by the dough.”
A warm smile crosses her face.
“The flavor is so pure. I don’t need the almond cream and chocolate. The butter is just enough. It’s so simple,” she says.
Mizrachi-Gabbitas opened her French-inspired Janjou in Boise in 2013. You’ll find fine pastries, cookies, cakes and more that invite you to breathe, sip an espresso and take a break from the chaos of your day.
“Relax. It’s OK. There’s no rush,” she says in her rich accent. “This is why I’m here. This is my ambition ... to make people happy.”
Mizrachi-Gabbitas received a James Beard semifinalist nomination for Outstanding Baker in February. Almost immediately, her online orders doubled, and new customers flowed through her door.
“It’s crazy,” she says. “It’s like all of a sudden you get confirmation that you’re good.”
Days start early at Janjou. She and her staff arrive before sunrise to start the day’s baking. When she’s not in the kitchen, you’ll find her behind the counter ringing up orders, foaming up a cappuccino and talking to customers.
It’s as if she’s been doing this her whole life, but baking is the second career for Mizrachi-Gabbitas, 45.
An Israeli native, she earned a degree in English linguistics and education but then decided not to teach. She started working in the tech field for the now-defunct SCP Global Technologies, a Boise-based company, on a contract at an Intel plant outside Be’er-Sheva, where she grew up. At Intel she met Chuck Gabbitas, a Boisean who also worked for SCP and made regular trips to Israel. They got to know each other while he did an install at the plant.
Mizrachi-Gabbitas didn’t discover her love of baking until after her mother, Jeannette, died of cancer in 2002.
“That broke me,” she says. “It shook my life. Even before she got sick, I was having doubts about my career, but this was the turning point. I was like, ‘Is this the meaning of life?’”
While she was alive, her mom did most of the cooking. Mizrachi-Gabbitas stopped by to have dinner with her often.
“I had never spent time in the kitchen until she died,” she says. “When I had to cook, I found I really liked it, especially baking. I like that it requires more attention to detail. I have a weird personality.”
She kept her day job while studying at a renowned baking school in Israel — Estella Kitat Oman. Then she took vacation time to do an internship at a well-known high-end pâtisserie that required a three-hour drive each way.
“I fell in love with it and became completely obsessed,” she says. “Every weekend, I would bake what I learned and sell it from my cubicle at work.”
When Gabbitas’ Intel project ended in 2007, the couple moved to Boise, where they married eight months later. Almost immediately, Mizrachi-Gabbitas started baking. Once she received her green card, she opened her business, and began selling goods at the Porterhouse in Eagle and the Boise Co-op.
She named her business Janjou after an endearment Mizrachi-Gabbitas’ father used for her mother. It took seven years to get established and open her bakery in the strip mall at 17th and State. Chuck Gabbitas works the front counter often, sometimes with help from their 5-year-old son Eli, who loves to wash dishes and lend a hand in the kitchen.
Mizrachi-Gabbitas likes that her customers are like family, and what she sees everyday inspires her.
“I see a lot of young people here,” she says. “They’re willing to make an investment in good food. And that gives me hope for the future.”
State & Lemp
2870 W. State St. Seatings are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays and 6:30 and 9 p.m. on Saturdays. Dinner is $75 Wednesdays to Fridays and 6:30 p.m. Saturdays. Wine pairing is an additional $30. Saturday Supper Club at 9 p.m. is $60 a plate and includes wine. For reservations and to book private parties: StateAndLemp.com and 429-6735.
1754 W. State St., Boise, offers a variety of sweet and savory pastries, espresso drinks, cookies and more to purchase, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. The online store Janjou.com is open anytime.
Idaho James Beard semifinalists through the years
▪ 2015: Nate Whitley of the Modern Hotel and Bar, Boise, and Michael Runsvold of Acme Bakeshop in Garden City.
▪ 2014: Richard Langston of Richard’s Cafe Vicino, Boise.
▪ 2013: Gary Kucy of Rupert’s in Hotel McCall and Taite Pearson of the now-defunct Della Mano in Ketchum.
▪ 2012: Jeff Keys, former chef and owner of Vintage Restaurant in Ketchum, who retired in 2013.
▪ 2009-2011: Dustan Bristol of Brick 29 Bistro in Nampa.
▪ 2008: Jonathan Mortimer, chef and owner of the former Mortimer's Restaurant in Boise.
Who was James Beard
A Portland native, James Beard became known as the “Dean of American Cuisine” in the early part of the 20th century. Chef, author and culinary visionary, Beard hosted the first television cooking show in 1946 and was the first voice advocating for the development of an American cuisine.
When he died in 1985 at age 81, a group of his friends and colleagues created the James Beard Foundation and turned his house into a culinary institution where chefs are invited to prepare special meals. While he was alive, Beard welcomed a host of students and culinary professionals into his kitchen. Now, it is a performance and event space. In 1990, the foundation established its annual awards for chefs, restaurants and bars by region. Other awards for writing, restaurant design and more rolled out over the following decades.