Special Spotlight: Chef Courtney Larsen

6 December 2013

We’ve been lucky enough to have our visiting friend Chef Courtney Larsen come to Logan to try out a few new recipes on us. With about 30 of us eating (ten of those being the warehouse boys who individually eat as much as 30 people) Courtney had quite the task ahead of him.

Courtney prepared a few Thai dishes for us, and even the most hesitant eaters were quickly going back for seconds. Shrimp and mushroom green curry, Thai salted beef stir fry, papaya and jicama salad, and a spicy sambal of green mango and ghost chile was what we were able to gorge ourselves on.

We enjoyed Courtney’s food for three days, preparing us for Thanksgiving. We were lucky enough to see him one more time before he heads back south because he also cooked our Christmas feast at Sonora Grill.

There’s nothing quite as cruel as having the most amazing food you’ve ever eaten, and knowing that you’ll most likely never get to enjoy it again.

At Sonora Grill we were able to enjoy Mexican delicacies including ox tail soup, ceviche, chicken covered in a pepita seed sauce, Sonora Grill’s classic chips and salsa, and lots of seafood. My favorite was the carnita frita served as an appetizer.

While the food itself is amazing enough to write about, what’s even more interesting is Courtney’s quest to promote farm to fork eating. You see, Courtney grows just about everything he cooks with, making sure that the vegetables are fresh and healthy and the meat has been raised and treated right. He hopes to “open people up to the world their food actually comes from and how it affects them and their communities,” says the Facebook page Courtney helps with.

Courtney is working to expand his garden programs that he grows in southern Utah. He has taken over a dying restaurant down there called Buffalo Grill. This summer they were able to produce 80% of the vegetables used, the glaring exception being potatoes. “We make everything from scratch,” he says. “Bread, granola, yogurt, graham crackers, pretzels, dressings. Everything except ketchup and mustard.” He also admits that he keeps pasteurized Mayo on hand for people who don’t want their homemade kind.

So what does it take to completely fuel a restaurant and the hungry staff of Malouf (four times)? Three acres of gardens, over 200 laying hens, two greenhouses at 2,000 sq. feet and 10,000 sq. feet. The larger greenhouse contains six fish tanks for aquaponic growing, although Courtney admits that program is “off to a slow start” because it requires an 80 hour work week to manage (ouch!). We were able to thoroughly enjoy the seafood at Christmas and hope that program keeps moving forward.

In his own words Courtney admits that “I am not a content person and if I’m not moving forward I’m dying.” If starting this project isn’t enough proof, you should check out the Thanksgiving dinner he led at Buffalo Grill. I’ll give you a sneak peek: it included 10 gallons of Turkey gravy, 250 potato rolls, and three 17 hour workdays.

Courtney got his start washing dishes here in Logan, at the age of 16. After a while he moved into his natural habitat of the kitchen. Two years later, at 18, he moved to Tony Roma’s and eventually took over the management. “I decided I wasn’t a corporate kind of guy at that point,” he says.

He then spent the next few years adventuring, by working the summers in Alaska as a bartender and the winters in Utah as a server and ski instructor. He made his way back to Logan where he met Steve Ballard, Sam Malouf’s brother-in-law, who would later play a greater role in his life.

One thing led to another, and Courtney thought he was ready to settle down in the kitchen of Colons Grill Mid Mountain Bistro at Alta. However, Courtney and his wife Brandi were surprised by their first child, so Courtney was led to look for better paying jobs. Eventually he ran back into Steve Ballard, and took over the reins of the kitchen at the award winning Sonora Grill. As we already talked about, he’s currently located in southern Utah, working to expand his garden program and save a dying restaurant.

We were so lucky to be able to enjoy his talent for a few weeks! I for one sincerely hope we get the chance to see him again.