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Sun Valley Harvest Festival was a cornucopia of food surprises

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Sun Valley and adjacent Ketchum are by far Idaho’s wealthiest communities with annual per capita income in excess of $50,000 making this resort region ideal to host an annual internationally recognized food festival. Yet that does not mean the offerings at the Sun Valley Harvest Festival are esoteric. Along with food demos making it clear that carrot cake could be cooked in a Dutch oven over a campfire, and that a vegetarian dinner fit for A-list celebrities could be both inexpensive and full of flavor, the festival’s eclectic Marketplace presented an array of products.

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From the many exhibitors this journalist learned that quinoa is a complete protein. Salting a sauté pan before frying vegetables prevents sticking. Hemp seeds are high in fiber, low in carbs and packed with iron.

Although it is possible to actually bake a cake in a glass mason jar, Ketchum’s Mason Cakes Sun Valley prefers to use the jar as a reusable form of packaging for cakes that are complete with frosting and decorations. Deep flavored and rich flourless chocolate cake is layered with creamy dense chocolate buttercream. On the opposite side of the spectrum is their gluten free chocolate cake with raspberry compote. Their birthday cake is a yellow butter recipe with chocolate buttercream and rainbow sprinkles. Started in 2011 they use local Idaho ingredients, have an on-line store, wholesale to local purveyors and, best of all, the mason jar can be reused.

Arno Chocolate uses premier Guittard chocolate, which, despite that name is an American family owned company. Arno’s creates rich barks topped with hazelnut toffee, peppermint, and an incomparable roasted almond with sea salt topped bark. Started in 2008, they received a stunning endorsement when the Nordstrom’s department store chain started carrying the Arno’s line in 2009. Arno’s sea salt chocolate pairs beautifully with Snake River Valley AVA red wines.

Idaho’s Treasure Valley is the state’s agricultural heartland famous for wine grapes, produce, landscape plants, sugar beets and herbs. It’s from this fertile region that Starlight Herb and Spice Company gathers its ingredients for their line of imaginative blends and rubs. In business for 13 years, they not only create great herb rubs, but for their salt blends use refillable glass grinder jars. Their signature Thai ginger salt mix makes an exceptional topping for fine chocolate as well as grilled shrimp.

Hemp usually brings to mind a certain drug, yet the plant has produced valuable fibers for a multitude of economic uses for thousands of years. Now Canada’s Manitoba Harvest manufactures and markets high quality hemp food products bursting with nutritional benefits. At the Sun Valley Harvest Festival, the company featured their Hemp Hearts line of raw shelled hemp seeds that can be added to salads, casseroles and pesto.

Besides an array of purveyors of fresh produce, natural jams, honey and soaps, dried and seasoned kale caught marketplace buyers. It Takes A Village Foods had a tasty, and low calorie, display of plain and flavored kale chips under the Ketchum Kale Chips label. These light as a feather chips also came flavored with parmesan cheese and chipotle. Their Veggie Evolution vegetable chips included such flavors as barbeque, lemon parmesan and beet. High in protein and low in anything bad, It’s hard to have a more healthful snack.

No food marketplace would be complete without coffee and wine. Ketchum’s Lizzy’s Fresh Coffee roasts certified organic and fair trade beans in small batches and will ship nationwide the same day as ordered. So concerned with freshness they offer an automatic reorder system just so customers wont feel compelled to over order, keeping the beans beyond their freshness threshold. They’re also advocates of the French press method of coffee preparation.

Unknown to many Americans, the Snake River Valley is one of the nation’s newest AVAs (American Viticulturist Area). Yet Idaho has been producing award winning wines since the mid-19th century. Prohibition disrupted the industry for half a century during the 1900s, but it has roared back to life within the past thirty years. Sharing similar terroir to the Columbia River Valley of Oregon and Washington fame, Idaho’s wines are balanced with fruity bouquets and suit a dry palate. Over two dozen of the state’s best wineries were represented at the festival.

Despite the fact the Sun Valley Harvest Festival is about food, a unique non-profit promoting creative writing, The Cabin, drew a lot of interest, especially since they were sponsoring a talk by the incomparable food writer and critic Ruth Reichl in October. The Cabin, a non-profit literary arts organization, has an objective to improve writing skills in schools especially by supporting teachers of at-risk children and those in juvenile detention. They also hold workshops for adults and summer writing camp. Yet there’s still a food connection. The Cabin’s Executive Director, Britt Udesen, is the sister-in-law of Andy Koenig, who, along with his brother Greg, owns Koenig Vineyards, one of the Snake River Valley AVA’s premiere wineries.

Out in the cooking tents a number of chefs demonstrated a range of foods. Tina Ruggiero prepared her curried vegetable pancakes from her new book “The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook.” Mexican chef Rodrigo Bueno of Baja California’s luxury resort Rancho Pesadero demonstrated a luscious goat meat chorizo sausage served on traditional homemade corn tortillas. Award winning vegetarian chefs to A-list celebrities Tal Ronnen and Scot Jones of West Hollywood’s Crossroads restaurant presented a twist on traditional caponata as an entrée served on black quinoa and toasted buckwheat.

Befitting a resort that attracts an eclectic international clientele, the Sun Valley Harvest Festival provided culinary entertainment for all tastes. Even unique music was featured on the last day outdoors amidst the luxury auto display surrounding the food demonstration tent. Spike Coggins, primitive musician, enthralled guests with unique and original compositions accompanied by the banjo, harmonica and percussion instruments ranging from chains, spurs and metal cleated boots tapping out the rhythm on old railroad spikes. Perhaps the Sun Valley Harvest Festival proves after all that innovators did win the west.

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