The Secret Of Blue Iguana

Nothing can beat the feeling of being asked to review a restaurant. That delight is even increased when the Owner and Executive Chef welcome you with open arms. Here is the article, courtesy of Utah Stories

The Secret of Blue Iguana

The “hidden” entrance to Blue Iguana. Photos by Jeff David.

The word “hidden” holds real significance here. Blue Iguana is tucked in between two buildings directly west of the Capitol Theatre. As you come through the alley and walk down the stairs, you are immediately transported into a festive atmosphere with an inviting aroma.

Kris Cappaert has been the proprietor here since shortly after Blue Iguana’s inception 19 years ago. A lifelong Utahn with a passion for food, a mind for business, and boundless energy, Kris has established a place that she long dreamed of.

She is but part of the equation here as Manuel Castillo has been her executive chef for nearly all that time. Any restaurant that has had the same owner, same chef, and nearly half the original staff for so long must be doing something right.

Both Kris & Manuel enthusiastically introduced me to Mole—a sauce made from spices, chilies, nuts, and chocolate. Blue Iguana has seven different types; the most popular being Mole Poblano: red chiles & peanuts with a dash of cinnamon and chocolate. Another, the Mole Negro, has 18 ingredients created through an intricate, step-by-step process.

Each mole is unique with a smooth, rich flavor. Moles go great as a sauce for any of the meats, or even as a dip for chips. Mix and match a specific Mole with a dish to find your perfect combination; or better yet, get a recommendation.

Before you do anything, dig into some chips and salsa. Homemade each day, the salsa is a fine-chopped blend of veggies and herbs, has an incredibly “fresh” flavor, is slightly spicy, and just may be addictive.

Blue Iguana’s Puntas De Filete.

The menu is an encyclopedia of Mexican cuisine. I asked them to surprise me with an entree—something unique and spicy. They brought out the Puntas De Filete: grilled sirloin tips and bacon sautéed with onion & serrano chilies, served with an almond mole and topped with avocado. The ingredients combine to make the dish like a beautiful orchestra—each piece enhancing the others. The serrano peppers gave it a “slow burn of satisfaction.”

While dining at Blue Iguana, I got to meet an enthusiastic owner & chef, taste delicious food, and watch loyal customers who were familiar with the experienced staff. It is not simply a restaurant, but an experience. My last question for Chef Manuel was, “What is your secret?” He replied that there are no secrets with his food. “Everything is made from passion and love.”

Locations: 165 S. West Temple in Downtown Salt Lake and 255 Main Street in Park City.

Tom Garwood: From Carpentry to Beverage!

Tom showing off his beverage creation at Liberty Heights Fresh

Tom showing off his beverage creation at Liberty Heights Fresh

Isn’t it human nature to have a plan, and to think that this plan is set in stone for the next few years, or decades? This past Sunday I was talking to a gentleman who told me that if his work doesn’t become more regular, he is going to go back to school and find something that is. I told him that this isn’t the world we live in anymore. We have to prepare for the ups & downs. The days of 30 years at a company with a pension and benefits are gone. Such is the story of Tom.

Tom is young, ambitious, and was kind enough to share his “Carpentry to Ginger Beer” story with me. When Tom was a teenager he worked in Carpentry. He kept doing this until he was 22, when he got a job washing dishes in a brew pub in Massachusetts. At this time he wasn’t excited about restaurants or attempting to get into cooking. It was a job that was flexible enough to allow him to go on tour with his band.

While working in the restaurant, he would finish the load of dishes from lunch and then help with dinner prep. This was involved with many items to get ready for the evening rush. The Chef noticed his increasing interest in food and threw him on the line. This was exciting for Tom–the rush of adrenaline giving you the energy to push through the evening–like a sprint to the finish line.

The job continued to allow him to go on tour with his band, sometimes for 4-5 weeks at a time; all the while sleeping in a van. Each time he returned for work at the pub, he moved up the line; eventually taking the lead on sauté. Tom felt that the prep was true cooking, and that the line was assembling. He appreciated the building blocks but 80% of it was the prep. If the prep was done right, the line moved along during the dinner rush and things didn’t fall apart.

When Tom was 25, he came to Salt Lake. He thought that it would be fun to come and hang out for the summer. He got a job doing dishes and prep at Tin Angel. Feeling like he wasn’t sure if this was what he wanted to do with his life, he went back into carpentry. It could only be best described by him. “Those three weeks back in cabinet making were the most miserable job experience of my life.” Feeling like the universe was telling him something, he went looking for a restaurant job again.

Ian Brandt, the owner of Sages Café and Vertical Diner called him back on his application. Ian started the vegan/vegetarian dynasty of Salt Lake and had a part time position available at Sages. Tom worked there for 2 months before Ian moved him to his juice bar–Supernatural Café. The concept was smoothies and meals where the ingredients were all fresh, all raw. Tom began experimenting with raw juices at home. The work at Supernatural, and his own practice gave him a deeper perspective and burgeoning interest in raw juices.

With a baby on the way, again the question of what to do with his life came up. Knowing that 20 hour days in restaurants wasn’t what he desired, he re-entered the music world. This time, not as a touring musician living like a vagabond, but a sustainable career in music focused on recording and editing. He also went back to school for musical composition and production. This occupied a good year and a half–all this time away from the restaurant scene.

While school is great, it’s also a money taker and not an immediate money maker. With that in mind, he needed a part time job. He had a friend who was serving at Pago and got him a job on the line. He liked the fine-dining, farm-to-table, wholesome food concept. It interested him with it’s modern takes on classical dishes. This got him excited about cooking again. This was a challenge, on a level that Tom hadn’t done before–really fast paced with a focus on presentation. He pushed himself and enjoyed the thrill of the rush. He worked at Pago for 8 months when he needed to return to school full time.

Part of his school requirements was a business class. I remember little from those classes but Tom took it in. One particular class taught him how to get a creative business started. His music studies focused on the theoretical standpoint–the building blocks (much like the prep work in cooking). The excitement about how to build a business with the knowledge he had gained, really intrigued him. Anyone who is of the Chef mindset, can’t sit still for long–either mentally or physically.

While dreaming and planning of what he could put together, he saw an opportunity in Ginger Beer. There was nothing like it–no market other than a international brand or two. And because it’s based on raw juice, unlike a soda, he could bring something new & unique to the food scene. Although Supernatural Foods (one stop on his culinary education) ultimately was boring, the passion he gained for raw foods and juices remained. He used his spare time (whatever there was) for business planning and to get in touch with his connections from the restaurant industry.

Many late nights and missed school classes later, we have arrived at Garwood’s Ginger Beer! When asked what makes this product unique, Tom responded that the only ingredients are organic produce and organic cane sugar. He cold presses the lemons–raw juice–as his flavor base rather than syrup or extracts. It is sweetened with a simple syrup made from the organic cane sugar.

Tom’s philosophy with his Ginger Beer is that by keeping the ingredients in their raw state, he is maintaining the full nutritional value and exposing remarkable taste. Ginger is incredibly healthy and has many nutritional and medicinal qualities. Oh and by the way, it’s delicious!

What’s coming for Garwood’s Ginger Beer? He is partnering up with Sugarhouse Distillery for promotion. Many bars use ginger beer as a mixer and Tom’s goal is to have it on tap as a non-alcoholic option. Giving tap space away for a non-alcoholic drink will prove a challenge (it already has), but Tom is prepared to move through those roadblocks. Nothing good ever came without work.

You will also find it bottled at Liberty Heights in April, 2015. They are also hoping for shelf space at Real Foods and they are looking into some Farmer’s Markets this summer.

I know Tom. I have cooked with him. To say that this guy knows food and knows the process would be an understatement. He has taught me so much. I have also tasted the Ginger Beer and mentioned it’s deliciousness above. There are a few ginger beer options in select stores. This could even be a lemonade with a kick–it has more lemon juice than any ginger beer I have tasted! You feel the stuff, it wakes you from your early afternoon grogginess. It’s healthy and a treat at the same time.

One fun story. Tom was making the ginger beer one gallon at a time. He tried to scale it up to ten gallons by simply taking the recipe and multiplying it by ten. It didn’t work; he didn’t think it would but gave it a shot. Being newly business minded and culinary-trained, Tom went back and re-engineered the mixtrue. Don’t those things in life that we think will be a simple change, not work out so? Tom learned and made it work; oh did he ever! Meet for a ginger beer anyone?

You can find Tom and his delicious drink of choice at: www.facebook.com/garwoodsgingerbeer
Instagram: @garwoodsgingerbeer
Twitter: @slcgingerbeer

Happy Drinking

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