Chef Nate Whitley provides locally sourced culinary delights.
By Elizabeth McKetta
Photography by Copper Chadwick
Once upon a time, Modern Hotel was just a hotel. It had several dozen comfortable rooms but no restaurant. Then, as Remi Courcenet, Food & Beverage Manager at Modern Hotel and Bar, explains, “The guests got hungry.”
So in 2009, the hotel removed several rooms and built a small kitchen. In the years since, The Modern Bar has become a kitchen that produces superlative food as well as a bar whose cocktails are featured in the New York Times.
The Modern chef Nate Whitley has a commitment to local ingredients served when they are fresh. He tells a story of preparing beets grown by Peaceful Belly, a 70-acre farm nestled in the Boise foothills, for Josie Erskine, one of the farm’s founders. “It was full-circle,” Whitley says. “Growers were eating their own food that we’ve prepared.”
On the seasonality cycle, Whitley comments, “It’s nice to eat something at its best—and then miss it. You get excited for it to come back around. I want to do justice to the good products these farmers provide me.”
He has free rein to experiment and put his experience (culinary school in San Francisco, several years cooking in the South of France, several more in Kerry, Ireland) to good use in his hometown of Boise, where he returned after eight years away. “We’re not trying to do what’s conventional in Boise right now,” Whitley says. “We’re trying new things. The best part is building relationships with the food producers and then getting to share the bounty with the people who come here to eat.”
The size of the restaurant probably makes this easier, as Modern Bar can hold maybe 25 people inside. Because of the intimate setting, the Modern has something of a license to experiment. This keeps both the diners and the kitchen sane. For Valentine’s Day, for example, there will be two seatings and a prix fixe menu: simple, relaxed, and memorable—and always fun and tasty.
When I ask Whitley about his greatest culinary success and failures at the Modern, he says that both involved goat. His first attempt at serving goat to the Modern’s clientele didn’t take. “I served it with harissa sauce, preserved lemon, couscous—sort of North African style,” he says. But very few people ordered it. Then a year later, he tried goat again, this time served with tomatillo sauce, a socca pancake, and Padrón peppers. The dish flew out of the kitchen. “People got into it,” he says. “With any new idea, you try it and maybe it will work. And sometimes it doesn’t.
The dueling goat dishes are only one example of how the Modern Bar is different from your average bar kitchen. Courcenet says, “What we serve is interesting, healthy, local. No fried food; no chicken wings. It’s the best way to support our community and provide our guests with seasonal and quality ingredients.”
To both Courcenet and Whitley, their relationship with their guests matters deeply. “People come back,” says Courcenet.
For more information:
The Modern Hotel and Bar
1314 W Grove St, Boise, ID 83702
(208) 424-8244 | www.themodernhotel.com