From sweet to savory, the Wood River Valley is known for serving up delicious and inspired entrees, pastries, cakes, and more from its crop of must-try restaurants and bakeries. It’s no wonder the region is known as a foodie mecca, offering creative cuisine that spans the globe with local ingredients from nearby farms that are the best of the best. And the head chefs behind the mouth-watering creations are as worthy of celebration as the recipes themselves, and these Sun Valley women are no exception.
Known as a pastry chef extraordinaire, Sarah Lipton’s sweet treats are as artful as they are delicious. Sarah, and business partner Taylor Rossi, own a bakery and floral gift shop, Hank & Sylvie’s, where Sarah is the head pastry chef. Along with a team of talented bakers, Sarah creates artfully decorated birthday and wedding cakes, as well as pastries and sweet treats.
Lipton says she loves to bake items that are sweet but not overly sweet, like flavorful buttery croissants and delicious cookies. “I like things to have a bit of a savory touch, with salt or herbs or something like that,” she said. “I try to use as many local ingredients as possible. When I can’t find them locally, I look for the best ones I can find that are the highest quality.”
A self-proclaimed chocolate-chip cookie lover, her style might best shine through with her brown butter and sea salt chocolate chip cookies. “The butter gives it more depth, and the sea salt cuts the sweetness,” Lipton said. “We use three different types of chocolate in the cookie, so it has lots of nuances.”
Lipton grew up cooking with her mom, “or making a mess while she cooked,” she laughed. “She might see it differently than I do.” A Michigan native, she went to pastry school in Chicago after college and relocated to Sun Valley. “I am one of those weirdos who knew in high school I wanted to go to pastry school,” she said.
Lipton has never not worked in a restaurant or bakery, so the seemingly long days and time on her feet is part of the appeal, she explains.
“I don’t do well with idle time or sitting time,” said Lipton. “It keeps my brain busy and my body busy.” And creating cakes is a way for her to showcase her creative and artistic side.
And while her repertoire of baked goods runs the gamut, she is most known for and spends a majority of her day on beautiful cakes. “I do really love making wedding cakes and birthday cakes,” she said. “it is what I spend more of my time doing every day; and it is where I spend most of my time creatively.”
One of Lipton’s favorite things about being a chef in the Wood River Valley are the connections she can make to the people who enjoy what she bakes. “When I get an email hearing I loved the cake they had, it means more when I have a face to the name. I have actual relationships with our customers.”
The restaurant business is in Lyndsey Mason’s DNA, it seems. Her parents, Anne and Scott Mason, along with her sister Adelaide, are the family behind three notable Ketchum restaurants: Ketchum Grill, Enoteca, and Town Square Tavern—where Lyndsey is the head chef.
“My parents met in a restaurant in Santa Barbara, California, and moved to Ketchum in the late-80s,” she said. Born and raised in Ketchum, her earliest memories involve time spent at restaurants alongside her sister and parents. “I grew up in the kitchen as young as I can remember,” said Mason. “I remember being five years old at the restaurant over Christmas week doing tasks. My sister and I would get our homework done and help our parents. It is what I have always known.”
And although it was never expected of her to become a part of the family trade, Lyndsey knew that’s what she wanted to do. “I just always loved working in the kitchen. My sister was always the floor person, and I was in the kitchen; I loved the artistry of the food.”
Lyndsey went to college in Portland, Oregon, and stayed in the area for five years and traveled frequently. She then moved back to Ketchum and worked at Enoteca. When her parents opened Town Square Tavern in 2015, she decided to stay in the area and help them open.
When developing a menu, she loves to riff ideas off of her dad, combining his years of experience with her new ideas.
Describing her style as modern, Lyndsey says she focuses on the flavors and how they work together, making sure to use seasonal and local ingredients whenever she can, rather than the same year-round. “I always change the menu based on what we can get. Older restaurants might have their tried and true year-round menu, but I like changing things and coming up with new ideas.”
At the Tavern, this means you might find a new favorite menu item each time you come, but Lyndsey enjoys the sporadic style. “Having new foods and trying new menu items keeps that excitement alive.
During the quarantine period this past spring, Lyndsey changed up the menu and focused on Mediterranean flavor profiles found in North Africa, Jordan, Lebanon, and beyond. “It is really fun to bring these different flavors to Ketchum,” she said.
When asked what ingredients she couldn’t live without, Lyndsey says fish sauce–she loves how much flavor it adds–and sherry vinegar. “With every dish or sauce, I seem to say it just needs a little sherry vinegar. It just needs a little splash of sherry vinegar.”
Although the pandemic has made the restaurant industry even more challenging in some ways, Lyndsey is reminded of how much she truly enjoys creating exciting food.
“When I create a great menu and great specials and the whole night people are telling the servers that this is the best meal they have ever had, that makes me realize I am at the top of my game in creating things people enjoy,” said Mason.
It’s a family affair at CK’s Real Food. Inside the bistro-style restaurant, Simone Kastner creates the much-loved desserts, breads, and homemade ice creams alongside her mom, Rebecca, while her dad, Chris Kastner, develops the menu with Gavin, her brother. After seventeen years as a chef-partner at Evergreen Bistro, Chris and Rebecca opened CK’s Real Food in 2003. Simone remembers her parents putting a paring knife in her hand early.
In first grade, Chris taught Simone how to make a pepperoni omelet. “I could julienne and sauté and flip an egg,” she recalled. “That was my 7-year-old party trick.”
“They taught us the ropes early,” she said. “When we opened CK’s, I was 14. I started as a busser, and I absolutely hated it; I hated being on the floor. I was shy, and it was not for me.” But then, Simone moved to the kitchen and started working on the line doing the pastry stations or cold appetizers.
“I started freezing ice cream and eventually started doing more baking,” said Simone. “I basically grew up in it. It taught me to value my work and really care about my job.”
Simone went to the “culinary school of CK’s,” as she calls it. She learned the ropes of baking from her mom, whose original recipes became a staple on the menu. “She was a great mentor as well,” Simone says.
And although she is too modest to call herself the pastry chef, Simone is in charge of the dessert menu and also makes the sourdough bread, table bread, and hamburger buns. “We also have a thing called CK’s Pantry that we started a few years ago, where we sell dressings, sauces, and baked goods at the restaurant and Kraay’s Market,” Simone said. “Pre-pandemic, we offered CK’s pantry online. You would order Sunday and pick up Wednesday, but now we just have a case out front where you can buy everything.”
Simone describes her baking style as rustic. “I am not into fussy desserts,” she said. Simone loves to source ingredients locally and when she can’t, chooses organic. She also prefers things to be simple and tasty and leaves the ornate and decorative skills to pastry chefs like her friend Sarah Lipton. “I am not like Sarah Lipton, who is super talented at making things look amazing.”
You can bet that on any trip to CK’s, you will find Rebecca’s carrot cake on the dessert menu. “That is the one dessert we could never take off the menu, people would freak out,” Simone laughs. Simone adds her own spin to the offerings with desserts like a vegan crème Brule and coconut almond cake with a dark chocolate cardamom ganache with coconut milk.
“I think it is important to have options for people who don’t eat dairy or don’t eat gluten, so I always offer something gluten free, something vegan, something that is chocolate,” Simone said. “But there will definitely be carrot cake.”
And whether it is sweet or savory, Simone says she couldn’t bake or cook without a good sea salt. “From a super young age, my dad and mom taught me you have to season and taste your food. Even with desserts, salt is in everything I make.”
While desserts are her specialty, you can still find Simone brainstorming entrees with her dad or thinking up creative sourdough recipes. It’s a true family affair, after all. “I really love working with my folks.”