I suspect Bowman Brown is a genius.
Saturday night I ate at Forage, the restaurant Brown has co-owned with Viet Pham for four years. Seized by the same vision, they left Spark in Provo to start an impossibly idealistic venture, which improbably became a success and propelled both of them into the national kitchen consciousness. But one of them a little more than the other. What started out as an equal venture has taken the partner chefs in two different directions, according to their preference and nature. Pham has become a media darling, competing on Extreme Chef, beating Bobby Flay at his own game on Iron Chef, his white smile and congeniality a natural for TV.
Bowman Brown, a family man, prefers to stay in his own kitchen. Now, with Pham out of it (though still an owner), we can finally taste Brown's own personal cuisine, teased out from the compromises of partnership, one chef's taste and imagination let loose.
Saturday, we tasted Bowman unbound, and it was one of the most amazing meals I've ever eaten. Sixteen different courses and when I say different I don't just mean “separate.” No dish was like anything I'd ever eaten. That doesn't mean they were uniformly successful–“coal” (and it looked just like that) missed. The black ball of Gold Creek cheddar in a burnt crust of malted barley and Epic's Spiral Jetty IPA was tasty (the cheese is tasty), but for me the coating came off a little more gummy than crispy, a texture I did not love.
You don't really know what you're getting until the server puts the plate in front of you. Menu descriptions are cryptically brief–how are you supposed to know what a pork cracker is? I'm not sure I know now. The server said it was a cracker made from extremely reduced pork stock and it was topped with a spoonful of shallot confit with a slight scent of fennel. All I know is I could have eaten a plate of them. We got two.
Yes, the servings are small. But there are 16 of them.
Some are supremely simple–two different types of radish with a schmear of house-soured cream, like a European butter. Fried nests of potato strands, centered with a sagecflower-garnished scoop of sheep's milk cheese from Oolite Cheese Company in Sanpete County. Their cheese is aged in oolite caves.
Others are unimaginably complex–or just unimaginable, for most of us, like the dessert of toasted elm seeds prepared 3 ways. Yes, the little parachute elm seeds that right this minute are cluttering your patio and sidewalk.
Presentation is earthy, almost Japanese, and suits the name of the restaurant. Little wooden spoons full of domestic caviar garnished with nasturtium petals rested on slabs of stone.
Duck egg mousse came in its original shell, nested in a wood box of fresh herbs and greens.
Okay, like always, Forage's food is not the kind your belly craves, like a plate of enchiladas or a juicy burger. It's food your mind craves, when you want to go exploring, when you want your gustatory horizons expanded. The food is fantastic, but never expected. Chef Bowman's subtle sensibility makes the most of unusual local ingredients, foraged by himself or sourced from small local producers. It's ultimately seasonal–note the nasturtium petals, the elm seeds, the rose petals garnishing the goat cheese mousse.
Forage is the only place in Utah that offers this kind of culinary adventure. Go and eat.