Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm Celebrates Arrival of New Executive Chef Tamara Stanger

Hell's Backbone Grill & Farm Celebrates Arrival of New Executive Chef Tamara Stanger
Left to Right: Blake Spalding, Jen Castle & Tamara Stanger. Photo credit: Ace Kvale

Acclaimed Chef Tamara Stanger Joins Women-Owned, Farm-to-Table, Six-time James Beard Foundation-recognized Restaurant in One of the Nation’s Most Remote Towns

Reservations are Live Now for the 24th Season of Locally Harvested and Globally Celebrated Food Made with Love in Scenic Boulder, Utah.

Hell's Backbone Grill & Farm Celebrates Arrival of New Executive Chef Tamara StangerBoulder, UT  (RestaurantNews.com)  Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm announced today that highly lauded and accomplished Chef Tamara Stanger will join its culinary team as Executive Chef. Her arrival coincides with the much-anticipated opening of the 24th season and a new reservation system, which is live now for all who wish to experience the world-class restaurant situated on the grounds of the Boulder Mountain Lodge, in the heart of the magnificent Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Since its inception, thousands have flocked every season to Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm to be nourished by the fresh, seasonal cuisine sourced and harvested from heirloom orchards, local ranches, and, primarily, from the restaurant’s own organic farm.

“We had started to imagine if it would be possible to find the right chef for our unique setting,” Co-Owner and Founding Chef Jen Castle said. “There is no one else who could have filled this role. Tamara is a strong leader who will work in tandem with us in the kitchen, while also celebrating the challenges and rewards of high-desert farming.”

Stanger’s personal mission to educate the public – especially youth – about sustainable desert agriculture, in the hope that the future of food can return to a place of abundance, wellness,  and sharing, aligns closely with that of Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm’s co-owners Jen Castle and Blake Spalding. They are renowned for using their restaurant as a vehicle for change. Their women-owned restaurant was founded on and follows Buddhist principles, with a deep commitment to sustainability, food justice and social justice, and community and planetary responsibility.

“Tamara’s arrival comes at the perfect time,” said Co-Owner and Founding Chef Blake Spalding, “as we take the restaurant to the next level. It’s been nearly a quarter of a century that we’ve been in deep service to our project. Now we have an opportunity to reimagine and implement a renewed vision that supports not only the health of our business, but an ever-deepening commitment to culinary and hospitality excellence.. We’re excited to have Tamara’s help, skill, and fresh eyes on our goal, which is for our business to be stronger, healthier, happier, and more joyful as we move out of the difficult pandemic years.”

Stanger is easily at home in the remote town of Boulder, Utah, which has a population of 252 people. She was born and raised in Utah, living mostly in a ghost town called Mammoth, which at one point in history was booming from gold mining operations. She grew up hiking the mountains, exploring caves, and foraging the land for food. She has always had  a strong connection with her surroundings.

“Working at Hell’s Backbone Farm & Grill is not me just taking a job,” said New Executive Chef Tamara Stanger. “I have to do this because I believe in it. Once I met Jen and Blake in person, I felt I had known them all my life. We have very similar cooking styles, and I love what they do. People come back here every year – for a reason. We will make Hell’s Backbone Farm & Grill more sustainable, give us all a great quality of life, and continue to serve world-class cuisine to the thousands of people who come each year.”

Although Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm is widely recognized by the culinary community and popular with foodies, travelers, and environmentalists around the world, the pandemic presented unique challenges to the restaurant located in remote Southern Utah. In the winter of 2022, Castle and Spalding began reaching out to friends and customers to let them know that after several hard years, they might have to close down. The response from their community was that the restaurant is invaluable and exemplary in its practices and that many wanted to help keep it open. A GoFundMe was started to raise crucial funds to operate for their 24th season, and they met the goal of $324,000 in mere hours. Those funds have made it possible for Castle and Spalding to not only reopen for another season but also make essential infrastructure updates. With the addition of Tamara Stanger as Executive Chef, they can focus on the long-term vitality of Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm.

“The GofundMe donations and the simultaneous outpouring of love and encouragement from our community and guests gave us the determination and the literal means to address what had felt like an insurmountable mountain of problems,” explained Spalding. “We are completely awash in gratitude and joy that we have the ability to reopen for our 24th season.”

More about Tamara Stanger

Stanger’s work has brought many accolades, such as “Best Visionary” by the Phoenix New Times, “Signature Dish” by the Arizona Restaurant Association, and “Excellence in Taste” + “Excellence in Distinction” by Devour Culinary Classic. She hosted the first James Beard Foundation Taste America dinner in Utah, just months after she returned to her home state.

Stanger’s menus have always centered around regional food, from the history and culture to the wild and indigenous ingredients, even to the small farms that supply the seasonal produce. Stanger says it is important to showcase the traditional foods of the region because they represent not only who we were as a society, but who we will become. Stanger is inspired by the ancient people of the desert who fed their own community, grew sustainable agriculture, created stories through sharing food, and maintained the overall health of their people.

When not cooking, Stanger enjoys foraging the land, making art, and being a mom. She also loves vintage recipes, such as those passed down from her European grandmothers. These recipes can be found on her menus in the form of dumplings or pies – using desert ingredients, of course.

Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm will reopen for their 24th season with a new reservation system in place on March 31, 2023. While reservations are highly encouraged, walk-ins are always welcome.

About Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm

Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm is celebrating its 24th season of serving organic, locally sourced cuisine, with much of the produce harvested from its six-acre farm in Boulder, Utah. The destination restaurant proudly enjoys the highest Zagat ratings in Utah and follows Buddhist principles, with a commitment to sustainability, food and social justice, and community and planetary responsibility. Co-owners Jen Castle and Blake Spalding have also created a retail line of food and two acclaimed and beloved cookbooks, With a Measure of Grace, the Stories and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant, and This Immeasurable Place, Food and Farming from the Edge of Wilderness.

Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm was selected as a James Beard Awards semifinalist in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and advanced to nominee in 2020, the year the awards were canceled due to the pandemic. Spalding and Castle were honored most recently by the restaurant’s  inclusion as semi-finalists for Outstanding Restaurant (one of twenty restaurants each year in the national category) for both 2022 and 2023. Now, they are excitedly looking forward to the March 27th announcement of category nominees. Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm was also given the national Snail of Approval award in 2022 and the Utah chapter Snail of approval award in 2018. It was voted “Best Restaurant of the Rockies” by Elevation Outdoor Magazine, and awarded “Best Restaurant in Southern Utah” by Salt Lake Magazine from 2007-2019 (and subsequently honored with the Hall of Fame award that recognized the enduring best restaurants in the state). Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm was presented the prestigious Utah Governor’s Mansion Award for Culinary Artistry in 2006 by Governor Jon Huntsman and was a Fodor’s Choice 2006 recipient. Castle, Spalding, and the restaurant have been featured in many national publications, including the New York Times, O the Oprah Magazine, and Bon Appetit, and they were the subject of a 2018 New Yorker feature highlighting their efforts to save the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from being downsized. Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm was also one of four restaurants chosen to represent Utah’s Slow Food movement in an exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Connect with Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm through the Website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.