Tahoe’s Foodie Culture
By Priya Hutner
The aroma of sautéing onions and garlic emanating from a kitchen, spices percolating in a pan or fresh baked sourdough bread warm out of the oven are just a few of the scents that that call us to gather around a table and partake in a meal. Tahoe is a culture of outdoors. We are also a foodie culture. We love our food and drink. It’s a way to gather and connect whether at a restaurant, hosting an intimate dinner or partaking in a potluck dinner at a friend’s house.
Specialty cocktails created by avant-garde cocktail mixologists have taken center stage. Mixologists create unique flavors and infusions that enhance our spirits. Beer has a cult following in Tahoe. Breweries have popped up in all of the nooks and crannies of the community on highlighting brews with new twists and flavor profiles.
Dining out is an adventure with multicourse menus and wine pairings showcasing what’s new and trendy. Chefs are creating, re-creating and finding inspiration from around the globe. Food and wine festivals abound. And even potluck dinner parties reflect new trends in eating whether it’s Keto, Paleo, low-carb or plant-based cuisine.
While many food fads come and go, some cuisine standards remain steady. Who doesn’t love a good Italian or Mexican meal? For those of us foodies at heart we are continually on the hunt for the new trends, twists on world cuisine and innovative influences in our area:. Think soup dumplings, Korean barbecue or Ethiopian fare.
Ramen, Hot Pots and Poke menus have popped up around the lake and reflect our desire for healthier menus that do not compromise on flavor or taste. Comfort foods tend to crop up during the winter months — especially craved after a long day of skiing. Comfort foods, too, can take on a new twist. Burger, chili or mac and cheese are winter winners. Add lobster or bacon and vegetables in your mac and cheese and it’s a whole different animal.
Currently many eyes are on a plant-based movement; we see Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger gracing menus along with more vegetarian and vegan options. Tahoe is particularly sensitive to gluten and a host of menus reflect these dietary preferences. Restaurants find themselves at the center of dietary trends and cater to patrons that adhere to Keto, Paleo, gluten-free and vegan diets thus making it easier for people with such dietary needs to dine out.
Eat local movement
Tahoe’s food culture is reflected in the eat local food movement. The Tahoe Food Hub’s Farm shop and Slow Food Lake Tahoe support the local food movement educating the community on growing, preparing and accessing local and sustainable food. Member-based CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes drive trends and awareness of our food culture to the local consumer. In the spring and summer, farmers’ markets abound in Tahoe along with a number of natural grocery stores that support not only the health of the community but also the local food culture.
Many Tahoe restaurants tend to remain true to their California roots. Fresh, local and sustainable is still the foundation of many menus. Seasonal menus are at the heart of many of the restaurants in Tahoe.
Paul Reder, co-owner of The Loft in South Lake Tahoe, has been in the restaurant and entertainment industry for 32 years. He has seen a lot of change and his opinion is it’s all for the better.
“With access to higher-end lodging and more people visiting from the city, there is a need for an elevated culinary experience. It’s been a collective effort with restaurant owners to elevate the experience on the South Shore. Sample the Sierra and farm-to-table events have raised the awareness that we are a foodie market and a destination for great food,” says Reder.
Taste at The Loft is one of the restaurants meeting the demand as more people with sophisticated tastes visit and move to Tahoe. For Taste, this consciousness in food and trends has cultivated a number of events like its new winemaker’s series. Reder acknowledges that many influences in the market have “raised the level of the culinary experience in South Lake Tahoe.”
In Truckee, restaurateurs are shifting trends to cater to their patrons. Chris St. Martin and Ryan Dierks of Truckee Tavern lead the way with their new project Roco Como, which offers Mexican and Japanese served under one roof.
South Tahoe Restaurant Association’s Annie Handrick acknowledges that their restaurant members are reflective of the culinary atmosphere in South Lake.
I’ll continue to delve into the culture of the Tahoe food scene and explore what’s new, what matters, the many aspects of our food scene and its impact on our environment, health, wellbeing and social fabric of the community.