Briar Handly, the executive chef of Park City’s Handle and its downtown SLC sister restaurant HSL, may have plenty of accolades, including a nomination for the prestigious James Beard Award. His attitude toward the locally sourced meats, produce and more he features in his cooking, though, is humble, bordering on self-deprecating. “I try and not mess those ingredients up,” he says. “I try to heighten the flavor a little bit and let them shine.”
Handly’s approach to cuisine is inventive, thoughtful and often improvisational—menus are printed daily to accommodate his spur-moment-of-the ideas and incorporate the freshest seasonal ingredients. Over his years in the Utah restaurant industry, he has built relationships with local growers and artisans, many of whom he visits weekly at the Park City Farmer’s Market. The food at Handle adapts to feature the best in Utah produce. When Handly and I talked in July, he was preparing to transition from spring ingredients—mushrooms, fava beans, greens, nettles—to crops from the summer harvest—like squash, berries, tomatoes and stone fruits. Meanwhile, his staff cans, jars, pickles and preserves local ingredients all year long, allowing local food to stay on the menu through the winter months.
“Farm to table” is a frequently used marketing term, but it can be difficult for everyday diners to know what that means in practice. That’s why our sister publication Salt Lake Magazine recently asked Handly to go deep on a single dish—a mushroom tomato toast—and explain the origins of each ingredient.
1. The foundation of any great toast is a beautiful, flavorful bread. Red Bicycle Breadworks’ Stick Bread, basted in olive oil and sea salt, fits the bill. “It’s kind of addictive,” Handly says. “You pick it up at the market and it’s hard to get home without eating the whole thing.” He toasts the bread with homemade herb oil with thyme and garlic scapes from Ranui Gardens. Ranui grows produce in the nearby mountain towns of Oakley and Hoytsville with no chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
2. Philip Grubisa, who now owns the Salt Lake butcher shop Beltex Meats, was Handly’s first sous chef at Talisker on Main. “I try to incorporate stuff from people that I’ve worked with or have worked for me,” Handly says. Handly whips ‘nduja—a “creamy, spreadable salami”—with butter to create a simple sauce. “I don’t mess with it too much,” Handly says.
3. Handly sources Treasure, a creamy cheese similar to brie, from Park City Creamery. The cheese is handmade with Utah milk just six miles from Handle’s kitchen.
4. Handly cooks with veggies from several farmers in Summit County. In this dish the arugula and garlic scapes come from Madsnacks Produce. The garlic scapes are pickled in mustard oil, which allows Handly to use the ingredient even when it’s out of season.
5. “We go through a lot of mushrooms, just because I love them,” Handly says. This toast highlights two varieties of fungi. The longer mushrooms are pioppinos from Wasatch Front Fungi. The morels, smaller mushrooms with a honeycomb pattern, are foraged by Adam Wong of Ogden’s Intermountain Gourmet. Handly preserves the morels in cherry wine and olive oil and then roasts and cooks them down in more wine.
6. The dish is topped with lettuce and tomato, both from PaMaw’s Organic Farm. The lettuce, a red bib variety, is grown especially for Handle, and Handly says it “tastes better than any lettuce you’ve ever bought from out of the bag.”
You can find even more seasonal cooking tips and recipes here!