When it comes to propelling Boise’s dining scene forward, no chef deserves more credit than Kris Komori.
So when Food & Wine recently selected Boise as one of “America’s Next Great Food Cities” — able to “hold its own” with Portland and Seattle — my freshly blown mind drifted straight to him.
What would Komori, a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist, think of Food & Wine’s lofty praise? Are we really living in one of “America’s seven most exciting up-and-coming destinations for food lovers”? From Komori’s perspective as the chef and co-owner of Kin, does Boise deserve to be honored beside Omaha, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Tucson, Charlotte and Jersey City, New Jersey?
But that’s not the truly earthshaking possibility.
Nibbling our finger steaks, are we finally seated at the grown-ups table? Is Boise now “a culinary capital that can hold its own against Northwest food hubs like Seattle and Portland,” as the article boldly proclaims? It wasn’t so long ago that The Washington Post ranked Portland the top food city in the nation.
Not to be a buzzkill, but I’m thinking Food & Wine needs a spoonful of reality sauce.
“We have a ways to go to get up to that level,” Komori agreed, speaking by phone. “But we’re on a good trajectory.”
Bottom line? Komori is fine with Boise appearing in a prominent “next great food city” article.
“I think it’s great for the city and the community to have it,” he explained. “… It’s better to be on the list than not!”
This is true. Because even if Boise shouldn’t pat itself on the back as a genuine great food city yet, its potential keeps rising. Meal by meal.
“I think it can get there,” Komori said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the next year. But in the next few years. We have positive momentum.”
Kin, Lively, Kibrom’s
Komori’s creativity at Kin, his progressive downtown restaurant, is one of the many reasons to be optimistic about Boise’s culinary future. Food & Wine also praised his role as a leader in the local community. Other chefs and restaurants highlighted include “newcomers” Cal Elliott at Little Pearl Oyster Bar and Edward Higgins at The Lively.
As eye-rolling Idahoans know, Boise gets featured in various “best of” lists regularly. Some are more credible than others. Food & Wine’s write-up? For the most part, it is well-researched. Informative. Fun. Worth the read.
“Over the past few years,” it explains, “Boise has quietly been accumulating all the trappings of a great food town: craft breweries, third-wave coffee roasters, fancy doughnut shops, food trucks, and immigrant-run restaurants such as Kibrom’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Cuisine and Ansots Basque Chorizos — the latter a testament to the region’s vast Basque community.”
Idaho is “better known for its potatoes than its grapes,” Food & Wine observes, “but with 1,300 acres of vineyards, the wine scene is one of the Pacific Northwest’s best-kept secrets.”
So what makes a great food city in the first place?
The ingredients are numerous, Komori says.
Food & Wine’s mention of restaurants such as Kibrom’s and Ansots jumped out at him as evidence of the area’s evolving, improving food scene. “I do think it’s starting to stretch outside of Boise itself, too,” he said. “Especially when they talk about immigrant-run restaurants, more specific ethnic foods. They’re starting to get more community support, I would say.
“As far as a growing food scene in a city, that stuff is really important. Because you can’t just have high-end places that get awards and stuff. You need a whole structure of food. A whole ecosystem of restaurants.”
Diversity of food cultures is key to that ecosystem. “I think what’s great about Portland and Seattle — and why we’re not quite there — is they have, like, every style of food,” he explained. “Either there’s a restaurant or a food truck or an entire neighborhood dedicated to that stuff.
“… We’re not quite there in terms of global cuisines. But that means that there’s a lot of opportunity, and there’s a lot of energy around that. It’s like that entrepreneurial spirit is really alive here.”
As opportunity and enthusiasm intertwine, Boise’s restaurant scene will deepen. Theoretically, its dining personality will become increasingly defined and muscular.
“Really, for Boise to become a really good food city,” Komori added, “it needs to have its own identity as a community of, like, food. And it’s kind of there. It gets knocked on a little bit, but the meat-and-potato pub thing is not bad.”
Pub food? Yes, Boise has tons of it. Burgers are ubiquitous. On every menu. And it’s OK to embrace that. Some of our pub food is pretty fantastic.
If Boise truly wants to become a great food city, one factor towers above all. Komori calls it “the most important thing.”
“Restaurant to restaurant,” he said, “we need to understand that we have to attract, develop and retain talent.”
Nationwide, a labor shortage has made life difficult for the hospitality industry. Even tougher in Boise? The high cost of housing and rent. The struggle is all too familiar for the staff at Kin and every other restaurant in town. “Our crew lives in a sector that gets hit hard by that,” Komori said. “So there are powers outside of our direct restaurant that are making it challenging.”
Still, attention-grabbing articles like the one from Food & Wine help. A promising, potential young worker reads that? It gives them confidence about Boise — “that maybe this is a place to come to,” Komori said, “Maybe this is a place to stay if you’re interested in culinary arts. So it plants a seed in their head, like, ‘Hey, we’re not gonna become the next great food city if we don’t believe in it, right?’ ”
Ada County’s population just passed half a million. The Boise area isn’t about to stop growing. It won’t always be for the better, either.
But when it comes to our restaurants? Boise, with help from the rest of the Treasure Valley, seems destined to become a great food city. Maybe not tomorrow, but maybe not a decade from now, either.
“At the rate that people are coming here, and restaurants are opening,” Komori said, “I think it will happen sooner rather than later.”
Believe the hype — and order seconds.
This story was originally published April 20, 2022 11:41 AM.