For millennia, women have shown their love for others through food.
Whether making sure a healthy meal is on the table for a family every night or putting painstaking effort into a culinary masterpiece for a special occasion, women have used their role as a family’s nourisher in chief to provide both emotional and physical support to their families.
But Wood River Valley women have taken this image to the next level, stepping out of their family kitchens and into the business realm, making livings from providing feel-good food for all the residents of the valley.
From cake that proclaims to be better than, well, anything to sauerkraut sure to cure what ails you, these women have the goods—and they love to share them.
Sylvie Doré and Keri Sheppeard, NourishMe
A majority of the floor space of NourishMe, a nutrition store in Ketchum, is dedicated to food—gluten-free products, raw-food energy bars, powders and supplements alongside local produce and ethically raised meat.
Hidden at the back is a little spot known as Kiki’s Café, a place where women take all that raw material and turn it into nourishing soups, salads and sauerkraut.
Sylvie Doré and Keri Sheppeard are two of the women behind NourishMe’s whole-food café.
Doré and Sheppeard said they both started following a “traditional diet” when they were pregnant, eating mostly plants, nuts, seeds, legumes, raw dairy and fermented food such as kimchi and sauerkraut in an attempt to make their bodies as healthy as they could for their children.
Both have continued the habits ever since, and now bring their skills and knowledge to NourishMe’s café.
Doré said store owner Julie Johnson does not require her employees to follow any particular diet, but that she exposes them to certain principles—fewer processed foods, more plants and high-quality meat at least once a week.
“Raw food vegan is great if you want to cleanse, if you’ve been consuming excessive meat or an excess of sugar,” Sheppeard said. “But you have to build your body, too.”
Sheppeard said she started working at NourishMe after spending years farming in Baja California and in Hagerman.
“This is where I could share all of the knowledge I had gained [farming],” she said. “I thought, ‘If I’m going to work, I’m going to do something I’m passionate about.’”
Both of the women described themselves as “practicing home herbalists,” a practice that Doré said has much in common with feeding people.
For example, she said, she likes to put herbs such as oregano and burdock root, which she says have healing properties, in the soups served at the café to give patrons a health boost along with lunch.
“The more I learn about herbs and how healing they can be, I realize how the line between food and herbs is blurry,” she said. “Food can be healing. Sometimes, I feel like I’m making medicine.”
And that medicine really helps people, said Sheppeard, who added that her work is most rewarding when she sees how people physically feel better when they eat her food.
Sheppeard said one of her customers had been suffering digestive ailments for decades before she came to NourishMe and started eating fermented foods. Now, Sheppeard said, the woman is no longer suffering, and she’s only one of many customers who have seen benefits.
“They can feel it in their bodies,” she said. “You can see it on their faces. The No. 1 comment we get when people eat our soup is, ‘Oh, this feels so good!’”
The Chocolate Moose
Mary Jones of The Chocolate Moose is also dedicated to making people feel good—really good—through the cakes and baked goods that she sells wholesale around the valley, including her famous “Better-Than-Sex” cake, which is so good she’s copyrighted the name.
“I’ve been making that cake for 29 years,” she said with a laugh. “I tell people all the time, you can say you made it yourself, but good luck with that. It’s a really good chocolate cake.”
Jones said she developed the recipe, a modified version of a standard chocolate cake, while running The Chocolate Moose restaurant at Warm Springs.
“When I had my restaurant and it was slow, I would make stuff up,” she said. “I wanted a signature chocolate cake. The hardest thing for me was to come up with the name.”
She came up with a name that had shock value but prompted skepticism from those who doubted that a cake could ever be better than intercourse.
“My litany is, it’s better than bad sex,” she said with a laugh.
Jones started her career in chocolate at The Saturn Café in Santa Cruz, Calif., where she perfected a dish known as “Chocolate Madness”—two large brownies, two scoops of chocolate ice cream, hot fudge and chocolate mousse with whipped cream and chocolate chips.
Later, she sold baked goods to Neiman Marcus and developed a line of edible clothing, toys and puzzles. More recently, she created the entire Sun Valley Village out of gingerbread for the centerpiece of Sun Valley Co.’s Winter Wonderland Festival.
“I love doing that kind of thing!” she said. “I would do it full time if there was money in it.”
She said her main goal is to provide very high quality baked goods—so many readily available cakes and cookies are mediocre, she said. In contrast, Jones once caught a customer licking the plate after devouring a slice of “Better-Than-Sex” cake.
“If you’re going to eat a baked product, it had better be good,” she said. “I would rather spend a little bit more and have it taste fantastic.”
Heather Uptmor, private chef
Heather Uptmor started her food career as a windsurfer-waitress before a boyfriend convinced her to move to Sun Valley in 1995. After stints at Java on Fourth and Michel’s Christiania in Ketchum, she settled into catering and is now the personal chef and caretaker for the Baskin family ranch west of Ketchum.
“I live in an apron!” she said with a laugh, explaining that she was making chili while speaking with the reporter on the phone.
“I have always had a passion for food, and I can say I’m a foodaholic. I’m cooking all of the time, every day.”
Uptmor said her passion for food first came to the forefront when she was about 8. Instead of grabbing a simple snack after school, she said she would cut out elaborate pieces of canned peaches and serve them with cottage cheese, presenting the carefully crafted plates to her family.
“They thought I was crazy,” she said.
Uptmor said she takes after her grandmother, who was from the South. Uptmor’s own cooking shows some of that influence, and she said she loves getting back to old-fashioned meals, ribs, barbecue and cornbread—“all those wonderful comfort foods.”
Much of the food she cooks is local, either grown elsewhere in Idaho or in her own garden and greenhouses.
“In the summer I grow all of my fresh lettuces and vegetables and flowers and everything—so long as I can keep the deer out!” she said. “I really love to cook what is local, what is regional. I have a friend who brings all of these exotic fish in from Hawaii, and you know what? I don’t even touch that. I prefer to cook what is grown and caught here.”
Being a personal chef also allows her to cook to her clients’ tastes, she said, and to feel like she is almost part of the family.
“Not only do you get to put a lot of love and flair into that meal, but you also get to serve it to some wonderful people,” she said. “They get to sit down at a table and have dinner as a family. I love being a personal chef.”
Amanda Koonce, The Hunger Coalition
Amanda Koonce doesn’t live in Blaine County, but she still helps feed the residents of this valley on a daily basis. Born and raised in Fairfield, where she now lives with her three children, Koonce said she joined The Hunger Coalition last April as a food bank supervisor with the thought that she could bring thinking she could bring her newfound knowledge to Camas County.
“I have been a single mother,” she said, “I have been someone who has had to use a food bank before. Being in the position where I can turn around and help someone else…it’s hard to say how it feels.”
Even though Koonce is in charge of ordering, sorting and distributing food in Hailey, Ketchum and Bellevue, she said that she feels her job is about more than food—it’s empowering people who feel hopeless and defeated.
“[Food] is a stepping stone,” she said. “Food is almost a material thing compared to the mental and emotional disabilities [lack of] it can cause. If you are hungry and you’re stressed, the amount of stress can bring a personal down emotionally and mentally.”
Koonce said the most rewarding part of her job is seeing how people who have come to The Hunger Coalition for help can come away feeling confident, not judged or defeated.
“There’s a success story every day that walks through the door,” she said. “It’s not just about food. It’s about helping people.”
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org