C&I charts the people, places, dishes, and gear that define Western eats.
The tale of food in the West goes back further than the Lewis and Clark Expedition of Discovery’s dependence on food for diplomacy, trade, and survival. The region’s assembly of cuisines begins with pre-European-contact staples such as the three sisters (corn, squash, and beans), so called because indigenous farmers grew the crops in such close proximity to one another that they had a symbiotic relationship with each other and the earth. The crops remain crucial to Native American foods, which lately have received deserved attention and made a foray into contemporary restaurant kitchens and food trucks. We’re not talking about fry bread, here, although that dish remains significant in the story of the region’s food. We’re talking wild rice, timpsula, game, farmed produce, and the full spectrum of America’s bounty.
These culinary riches began to share plate real estate during westward expansion, eventually spurring into new traditions and regional specialties. While foods like the corn tortilla and its blue-corn cousin piki bread endure — and are even celebrated in high-end, award-winning kitchens — the torrent of ingredients has resulted in surprising and delectable dishes like the rustic workman’s stew cioppino. Necessity put Oklahoma fried onion burgers on diners’ plates. Sweets haven’t been exempt from innovation, either. Beloved candy bars and Kool-Aid have their provenance in the West.
As for contemporary innovations and trends, we can point to things like a reemphasis on craftsmanship and tradition for simultaneously preserving and pushing the boundaries of Western eats. The evidence is in craft breweries, sustainable wineries, local whiskey bars, and thoughtful sourcing by butchers and chefs. Elements of adventure give us the opportunity to catch and forage for our fine-dining meals.
Some of the stories and subjects we have chosen to spotlight herein were born around the campfire. Yet others came out of industrious minds with impressive work ethics and a compulsion for tinkering. So diverse is the West and its food.
We hope you will relish our choices for our Taste of the West and share your own in return.
People and Places
From the October 2017 issue.