August 13, 2008
Vintage's Jeff Keys
Ski bum turned restaurateur turned author

Jeff Keys credits a chicken for launching his career.

Thrown into the position of chef only days after rising from dishwasher to assistant chef at an Aspen restaurant, Keys had to come up with a dinner to please 175 on the fly.

In the introduction to his new cookbook, Vintage Restaurant Handcrafted Cuisine from a Sun Valley Favorite, Keys recalls how his version of Chicken à l’Orange, and the praise he received from his then boss, “lit the fuse for a life in cooking that continues today,” at Vintage, his unique, untamed little restaurant in Ketchum.

Lucky for us, Keys decided to bring his passion here 20 years ago. With his wife Sheila, he has since served up an eclectic menu for locals and tourists in an atmosphere that reflects his sensitivity, in an environment that is at once elegant and rustic, warm and friendly.

The restaurant, located on Leadville Avenue in Ketchum, can’t be pigeonholed into a definitive style, and that’s the way Keys intends it.

“I like to cook what I feel and arrange the menus so I can do that,” he says. “Vintage is not a machine-driven restaurant. We don’t have the fanciest equipment. We have very little space. We are hand-made in every sense of the word.”

Keys says he tries not to interfere with the ingredients he uses while cooking, and instead lets the “natural beauty and intrinsic value of the ingredients tell us what to do.”

From comfort food like cream of mushroom and fresh herb soup, to old-fashioned, crispy-skin roast duckling with wild rice and toasted pecan fritters and a baked apple and wild berry compote, Keys offers customers a plate that reflects how he’s feeling each day.

“I like the idea of freedom, authenticity, wildness, and a sense of the primitive,” he says. “I get excited by the energy and sense of fun when you don’t know what to expect.”

Now, with his recently published cookbook, Keys invites you to tap into your inner hunger and create a meal for your family and friends that speaks to your sense of well-being.

In his 219-page book, Keys invites you into his personal history, explaining how a confluence of events led him from the ski bum life in Colorado, to restaurant owner, chef, and author in Idaho.

Recipes are accompanied by stunning photographs of the area and the food by local photographer Glen Allison, and are organized by chapter headings that include “Vintage Style,” “Luscious Starters,” “Salads and Dressings,” “The Lost Art of Great Soup,” “Tomato Manifesto,” “BrownSauce Interlude,” “Entrees,” and “Desserts.”

The cookbook, published by Gibbs Smith, is in stores now.

This article appears in the Summer 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.