Justin Rakes, 34, is the chef de cuisine at the Snake River Grill. After a year of living in Jackson,
away from his southern roots, Rakes is bringing a bit of the South to the Snake River Grill with a dish featuring a flight of ham. After enjoying the dish, and being a fellow Southerner myself, I sat down with him to dish about his food aspirations, Jackson Hole and what is on the menu at the Grill this summer.
Dishing: Give me the run down of your work history and heritage.
Dishing: How did you end up in Jackson Hole?
JR: I was here on vacation two years ago and fell in love with the place. I had dinner one night at The Grill and was blown away by the quality and the service. People who have never been here have this perception that the quality won’t be the same when you leave the East coast. I got contacted by a recruiter and thought it would be a great way to further myself as a chef and do it in one of the most beautiful places in the country.
Dishing: In North Carolina you had access to farms and famers in your back yard. How has that changed living in Jackson Hole?
JR: There my restaurant had a garden and we had close relationships with farmers there too. One of them introduced me to aged ham and that was part of the evolution of this dish (the ham flight). We also have relationship with farmers here too. Sloane (of the Jackson Hole Farmer’s Market) brings by berries and cherries that we all get excited about and we are also working with a small farm south of town to grow some specialty things for us here.
Dishing: What do you like about living here?
JR: I love the things that are available to do on your day off. Float the Snake River. Hike. It is also a wonderful challenge to experience a high volume restaurant and learning that process of learning how to manage that. (The Snake River Grill often seats more than 300 people a night.)
Dishing: Tell me about the country ham platter.
JR: This is basically a tasting of country ham. There are three different hams on the plate. One from North Caroline that is aged 12 months. One from Virginia that is aged 16 months and the final one is from Tennessee and is aged 18 months. The platter is completed with peach jam and basil butter. When I lived in North Carolina the farm we worked with cured their own pork. The pigs were his pride and joy. It was better than any prosciutto than I ‘ve ever head.
Dishing: How do the hams differ in your opinion?
JR: I really wanted to take country ham and show the differences. Each is cured different times. The NC is a starter ham while the Tennessee variety is very salt forward. You can really taste the different flavor.
Dishing: When you aren’t in the kitchen at the Snake River Grill, where do you like to eat?
JR: The Kitchen and Café Genevieve.
Dishing: Your favorite old school SRG menu item?
JR: The Tartare pizza. I get it every time I eat there.
Dishing: Any closing thoughts on living and cooking in Jackson Hole?
JR: Being in this small community, the network of chefs and supporting each other is fantastic. Here it just seems like everyone has good things to say about each other. And I love working with my sous chef Kyle Nicholson. He is young but he is a force to be reckoned with.