CATALYST Culinary Culture

By Jane Laird

Culture Reporter. Cross Pollinator. Change Agent—perfect terms to encapsulate 30 years of food reporting from a magazine that was deliberately christened “CATALYST.” It has been a hallmark of its historical edibles’ editorial to tend towards the educational and uplifting by presenting the who, the where, the how, the what and, of course, the why.

Since the earliest years of publication, CATALYST has covered what is healthy, natural and unique when it came to faring well. We like to think that our sustenance-related articles—whether concerning health, sustainable practices, political issues or just ways to love what you are consuming—assisted in expanding food awareness throughout these decades.

This history of changing consciousness about culinary choices began with “The Good, the Bad and the Hopeless” feature in Summer 1986 issue when CATALYST’s first food columnist, Genevieve Rowles, surveyed local hospital cafeterias for health-conscious offerings. “If the heavy, fat-laden and sugary-sweet offerings of some hospital food services are an indication, one wonder wildly if said institutions are not trying to drum up business,” she stated, and noted that while the hospital at that time known as Holy Cross employed a whole foods philosophy and a four-star chef, St. Mark’s offered only a greasy spoon that she termed “Café Cholesterol.” Eighteen months later Rowles reported that St. Mark’s management team invited her back to sample its new, more heart-healthy regime.

The magazine was a change agent when it partnered with attorney Brian Barnard and won an important lawsuit against Utah Depart­ment of Alcoholic Beverages. As publisher Greta deJong wrote in the August 2001 issue, it was an effort to support the restaurants in the CATALYST Dining Guide; the Denver Third Appellate Court ruled Utah liquor laws were “irrational.” “As a result of last month’s ruling, servers may ask if you’d like to see a wine list, too,” she wrote. “How civilized.”

Civic concerns have been addressed through the years. When Cesar Chavez came to town in 1987, we reported on “Grapes…the Not Very Natural Snack,” informing readers about the EPA waivers on sulfur dioxide. In November 1991we reported on the “National Organic Standards” legislation.

In November 1998, the “Food and Politics: Fighting the Wrong War” column included “What is a Vegan?” by Erik Marcus, author of Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating (1997) and featured EarthSave’s Meat-Free Thanksgiving Event at Sugar House Park. In the same issue was a story on the latest on the recombinant Bovine Growth (rBG) Hormone.

Conscious cuisine

The first year, most CATALYST staff meetings were held at RJ Wheatfield’s, a two-story natural foods restaurant in Trolley Square (it eventually became a steak house and then disappeared).

In the early years of publication, CATALYST’s Vegetarian Dining Guide was invaluable to readers. The first Guide, Decem­ber 1987, saluted the area’s restaurants that were meeting the growing demand for creative vegetarian offerings.

In 1995, Carole Von Schmidt wrote about the new Oasis Cafe on 500 East, part of Jackie Pratt and Steve Paul’s restaurant/bookstore dream-come-true (owned for many years, now, by Jill and Joel LaSalle): “a vegetarian forum with a genre of finesse and flavor” in a glamorous structure designed by architect Max Smith. At that time it was primarily vegetarian but also offered fish. A favorite was the coriander-crusted Tombo tuna sandwich with miso aioli, watercress and shitake mushrooms ($8). “For lunch, put away a good-sized bowl of vegetable broth with fresh tomatoes, corn, peppers and celery, flavored with saffron, accompanied with a big slice of fresh bread ($3),” she wrote.

Veganism was becoming more significant in the local food culture. Ian Brandt, who launched Sage’s Café, Café Supernatural, Vertical Diner and Cali’s Natural Foods, says that prior to Sage’s 1999 opening, there was only one other vegan restaurant in the area, Evergreen Café. By 2003, the Vegetarian Dining Guide, written by a young Scott Evans (who now owns Pago on 9th & 9th and Finca by Liberty Heights), was mentioning lacto-ovo, vegan, fruitarian and raw; it spanned 11 pages. Eventu­ally, vegetarian offerings became menu standards around town and we discontinued the Guide.

In March 2004, Todd Mangum, M.D. laid out the tenets of the still relevant Paleo Diet. In June 2000 we discussed food diversity (“Garden Variety: Saving the seeds of food diversity”). In the 2006 “Culinary Culture” column, which examined food heritage, Beth Hoffman interviewed Jinan Abu Ismail, chef at Mazza, and her son Omar Abu Ismail, then operating Living Cuisine Raw Food Bar (the first in Utah—Omar is now the proprietor of Omar’s Rawtopia in Sugar House) in the article “Love of Pure, Healthy Ingredients.”

There have been naturally delicious topics, too. “Italy’s Slow Food movement has arrived in Utah,” announced Tenaya Darlington and Sarah O’Leary in the “Slow is Beautiful (and Delicious)” article of June 2001. Coverage of Slow Food Utah continued with columnist Amber Billingsley’s May 2005 “Slow Food, from Italy to Utah.” Adele Flail’s current “Slow is Beautiful” series highlights Slow Food Utah’s micro-grant recipients.

Go forth (locally) and feast well

Where to get your groceries and nosh has been frequently discussed through articles showcasing farmers markets (such as the seminal Downtown Alliance’s Farmers Market in Pioneer Park), CSAs, chef interviews and the natural/multi-cultural shopping surveys.

In the ’90s, demand for natural and organic started reaching critical mass. A harbinger to the locavore and farm-to-table movements, the 1997 Food and Community series by Frannie Trexler profiled local organic farmers. Kristen Rogers and Brian Barnard contributed to The Garden Cook column of 1996, each month featuring a local in-season food and what you can do with it, such as Barnard’s zucchini pancake recipe.

In the wake Jim Hightower’s “American’s Food Pioneers” in the February 2003 issue, where he reported that “‘Locally grown’ is developing the cachet of wholesomeness that ‘organically grown’ once carried,” subsequent CATALYST columnists further developed the theme of local, fresh and artisan. Jude Rubadue’s Shopping with Jude series began in 2004. She would report on what was available at the farmers markets or how to source ingredients locally.

CATALYST was an early promoter of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) participation. In February 2003, alongside “The Bad News about Dinner” on the costs of allowing agribusiness giants to dictate policy, staff writer Diane Olson listed three local CSAs that meet the growing demand for local organic produce using a model of mutually supportive local agriculture. By the time Guthrie Goeglein compiled “CATALYST’s Guide to Healthy Local Eating: the season of eating well” in 2012, he found 25 Utah CSA membership opportunities.

How did this happen? CATALYST-conscious media coverage helped. In Olson’s February 2003 article, she quotes Jeff Williams, then Resource Conservation and Development Coordinator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who was instrumental in the formation of the first CSA coalition in Utah. He reported that when preparing for the coalition’s premier public meeting, half the calls he received came from a notice in CATALYST: “It looks like a lot of people are interested in healthy food.” That is something we already knew.

— Jane Laird is making the transition from fast food to slow food. She is now a big fan of Omar’s Rawtopia and Cafe Supernaturale.

Reflections: Four Restaurants—One Spot

—by Jim Hensler

As long as we’ve been around, the 9th and 9th area has been an oasis of good local eateries and shops. One spot in particular, north of the northwest corner, has been a unique reflection and metaphor of evolving menu-consciousness over the last three decades.

Before the term “organic” was part of the mainstream lexicon, there was the Nature’s Way Sandwich Shop at 888 S 900 East. Owner Ed Hurd recounts that he believed the best foods were the least altered and the most natural, and that he had “a good feeling about offering people some alternatives and more knowledge about the food they’re eating.”

We’re not clear on the memory of how that northeast corner block was cut up, but when the 9th & 9th Market (prior to being renamed New Frontiers) occupied the exact corner (see “Natural in the City” in this issue), our recollection is their elegant 9th & 9th Cafe was tucked in the back, behind the Kite and Sandwich shop. The cafe hosted well-attended art exhibits and drew diners to this corner. (See photo.)

Considered one of the last of the “old hippie” businesses at the time by CATALYST food writer Bruce Plenk, Nature’s Way was unique. Hurd grew his own sprouts in gallon jars, sprouts that appeared on beloved avocado and watercress sandwiches and everything else. The shop eventually moved west on 9th South and toward the end of 1993, CATALYST wrote a fond farewell as Nature’s Way closed its doors after 20 years of operation.

In the sandwich shop’s place rose the Sun Bun Café, later renamed the Park Ivy (“Home of the Sun Bun”—a tasty bun with melted cheese on top), a wholly vegetarian, vegan-friendly restaurant. Adhering to a philosophy of “spiritual vegetarianism” and conscious service, the Sun Bun was, as Plenk wrote in April 1991, the sort of place that provided free soup, bread and water for two days in a demonstration of peace on the eve of the Persian Gulf War. Reader Mary Hess remembers, “The place was always packed, especially during lunch time. Many people were disappointed when it closed.”

Occupying this space now is another popular restaurant, Pago, owned by Scott Evans, a past CATALYST contributor. Evans reminisces: “I worked at Park Ivy for two years and loved being a part of that incredible (and wild) community. That was a big part of why the space was appealing to me when I opened Pago. It was a complete circle.” Pogo’s motto is “Artisan. Local. Farm Fresh,” echoing the growing locavore, farm-to-table movement. Pago participates in Utah’s RSA (Restaurant-Supported Agri­cul­ture), meaning food comes directly from Utah farms instead of large corporate food suppliers. The food is guaranteed fresh and the local economy is supported.

This article was originally published on July 31, 2012.