Chef Tyler Stokes made his Provisions restaurant a destination from the time it opened. Everything in the American melting-pot cuisine was in his culinary vision, from fried chicken to carpaccio to udon. But lots of dishes had a Southeast Asian flair—carpaccio came with yuzu koshu aioli and fried chicken was sided with green papaya salad. And one of Provisions kitchen’s greatest hits is the crispy duck spring rolls—duck confit twice-wrapped in a fried and a soft rice paper roll. Yum.
In July, Stokes opened Ginger Street, to take his Southeast Asian ideas further.
“About 12 years ago I took over as executive chef of a high-end Southeast Asian restaurant in Sun Valley called Globus and I loved it,” says Stokes. “We took modern American techniques and applied them to Southeast Asian cuisine. I wanted to bring my version of that cuisine to Salt Lake City. I love those fresh, spicy vibrant flavors.”
Stokes is aiming for authenticity but unlike many hole-in-the-wall or mom-and-pop Thai and Vietnamese cafes, he is trying to source ingredients locally and regionally. “We use as many local and organic greens and vegetables as possible and we go to never-ever programs for beef, chicken and pork,” he says. (Never-ever refers to farms and ranches who raise their animals sustainably, never using growth implants or antibiotics or animal by-products in their feed.) Using quality ingredients is more expensive and customers will see that reflected in prices. Stokes says he’s already getting push-back from diners who question $9 for bao or $10 for lettuce wraps, but he’s hoping that will change as people realize the implications of choosing sustainably raised ingredients.
An example of the Ginger Street difference: Orange chicken is usually a fried chunk of chicken meat coated with a cornstarch-thickened sticky-sweet sauce so you don’t taste a lot of chicken or orange. Stokes brines all-natural chicken overnight, fries it in a tempura batter made with sparkling water for extra-light crispiness, makes the orange sauce with marmalade and garnishes it with togarashi and scallions.
Stokes also wanted to serve food in a more casual setting, he says. “I wanted to create food that people could enjoy more casually and spontaneously.”
In the biz, this is called ‘fast-casual’ and it’s a service style that is taking over. Fast food has earned a bad name and it’s common knowledge that young people eschew white tablecloth dining. Fast-casual dining, where you place your own order then have your food brought by a server, is becoming the norm. It doesn’t always work—at Ginger Street, Stokes found the system caused a traffic jam and confusion in the evenings with multiple food and drink orders, so he’s switched to what he calls “casual full-service” at night. That just means you’re seated and a server waits on you.
The ultimate goal is the Stokes approach to fast-casual Southeast Asian food will catch on to be implemented in the restaurants to follow—yes, more Ginger Streets are being planned. You can tell by looking that this is a template but if there were any doubt, Stokes’ partner in this venture is Michael McHenry—think Costa Vida, Blue Lemon and other fast casual multi-unit restaurants.
“We’re already looking at Draper, Sandy, Boise—maybe Colorado,” says Stokes, soon to be not only a chef but a restaurateur. Keep your eye out for a Ginger Street in your town.
Photos by Adam Finkle
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