For 36 years, the Wagstaff Family has owned the concession on the edge of the reservoir at Deer Creek State Park. The mom and pop of this mom and pop, Doug and Julie Wagstaff, ran the boat rental and a burgers-and-pizza type joint to feed hungry boaters and provide summer jobs and a good work ethic to the Wagstaff kids. “They succeeded,” says Tamara Stanger, the new chef at the new restaurant The Lakehouse at Deer Creek. “Those kids know how to work.”
Stanger was hired by Brad Wagstaff, who, carrying on the family tradition, committed to the property by signing a 30-year lease. But the next generation wanted something more than just a summertime burger shack. The restaurant space has been completely renovated inside and out and features a large open patio at the lake’s edge, hence the name.
Stanger is not new to Utah. She grew up in the small mining town of Eureka (we had to Google that, too) working in her mother’s restaurant, a down-home meat and potatoes place that was an anchor in the small community. She never left the kitchen, working her way into high-end restaurants in the Phoenix-Tempe area. Her return to Utah was kismet; she had been wanting to return to her roots, literally. See, Stanger is part of a new generation of chefs that want to venerate old cooking styles with a focus on foraging, or gathering ingredients from nearby land.
“Food tells a story,” she explains. “I want to look at the ways the early settlers and Native Americans cooked and what they cooked. I grew up foraging and most of our meat was hunted or fished. The first thing I ever foraged was wild rhubarb. I made ice cream out of it. It felt like treasure hunting.”
Stanger’s menu reflects this back-to-the-land sensibility paired with her formal chef training. The food she forages, she explains, can’t be used in large quantities but rather provides an accent to recognizable fare. You’ll find frybread cooked in duck fat, tortillas made with Utah blue corn, garnishes featuring tart local cherries, a bolognese with rabbit, heirloom sourdough bread, pine nuts, juniper sprigs and even acorns, used to laboriously make the acorn flour featured in this former pastry chef’s intriguing acorn pie.
“These mountains are just covered in acorns,” she says. “It takes a lot of time to process them. You have to leach all the tannins, roast them and grind them. But it’s worth it. These are foods and techniques that are unique to Utah and help tell Utah’s food story.”
Opened last summer, The Lakehouse will be open year-round catering to the boating crowd in the summer and the ski/Sundance crowd this winter.
“The Wagstaffs wanted a legacy,” she says. “Our mission is to help define Utah food and make it beautiful to draw people from around the world. Michelin stars? Utah itself is a Michelin star and we want to share that.”
Read more about food and drink in Utah.