If you’ve lived in Utah for any stretch of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard the story of Brigham Young entering the Salt Lake Valley, where he uttered the words, “This is the place.” As we celebrate Pioneer Day, Taste of Harmons Podcast hosts Brandon Young and Chef Lesli Sommerdorf are joined by Harmons Executive Chef Aaron Ballard to explore the words that might have come next: “What’s for dinner?”
The answer for the pioneers wasn’t too much like what we eat today. Items like hardtack, brown bread, cornmeal puddings and cakes, and greens that could be foraged from the land were the staples of their meals, usually cooked in a cast iron pot, the predecessor to today’s Dutch ovens, which are still immensely popular in Utah.
And one Utah staple is still popular and on the menu for most July barbecues and dinners: sweet corn. Chef Aaron shares the story of the small—very small—harvest the pioneers got their first year, barely a bushel of corn. Legend goes that Jim Bridger offered Brigham Young $1,000 for that bushel. Today it’s much more plentiful, and that distinctive sweet taste is a favorite across the state.d
It wouldn’t be a discussion about Utah foods without mentioning green Jell-O and funeral potatoes. Chef Aaron provides a fascinating rundown on Utah food culture, traditions we still love, and possibly a few we could do without.
Chef Aaron believes that the quintessential Utah meal is pot roast, and the fastest way to a Mormon’s heart is a bowl of ice cream. We’re pretty sure he’s not wrong.
In the spirit of inclusion, we also cover Pie and Beer Day, a counterculture celebration featuring a play on the words “Pioneer Day.” Held yearly on the same day, July 24, Pie and Beer day proves that everyone is always welcome at a Utah table. In honor of this fairly new tradition, Chef Lesli came up with Frozen Root Beer Float Pie, featuring a waffle cone crust, which Brandon proclaims one of the most amazing things he has ever eaten.
Whether your Utah tradition is sweet corn and brats on the barbecue, or a pizza pie with a cold beer, Utah really is “the place” with great food traditions, both old and new.
Executive Chef Aaron Ballard
Experimenting with new tastes and flavors is second nature to Chef Aaron Ballard. He started playing in the kitchen at a young age and immediately began cultivating his love of cooking and fine food. Chef Aaron started his journey of food exploration with his parents inviting him to try new foods. If you offered him food, there were few things he refused—he tasted everything from Pacific Northwest oysters fried fresh at Pikes Place Market to pungent durian from the local Asian Market.
Taste was an adventure he rarely passed up.
Chef Aaron worked in the food manufacturing and beverage industry for a decade before following a lifelong dream that eventually led him to attend culinary school at the Culinary Arts Institute at Utah Valley University. Chef Aaron’s first lessons however were at the foot of his grandfather who was a chef. “Watching my grandfather cut open a loaf of bread was a lesson in gratitude and delight. You could see him honoring the process, savoring the ingredients, and deconstructing the method before the food even hit his lips.” Chef Aaron has carried on that tradition creating “life changing” moments for his students.
Chef Aaron has worked as a Kitchen chef, cooking school chef, and now serves as Harmons Executive Chef. When he is not cooking or writing new recipes, Chef Aaron immerses himself in fine food, brewing, music, and family. “Nothing spells joy in my life like being outside on a late summer evening with a sizzling grill, a glass of wine, and a guitar in my hand singing with my family and friends.”