Bambara Restaurant & Lounge Executive Chef Nathan Powers
With more than 20 years' experience in the kitchens of some of the world's most celebrated restaurants, Executive Chef Nathan Powers brings an ongoing passion for cooking to Salt Lake City's Bambara Restaurant & Lounge.
Chef Powers' Background
Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Powers attended the College of Wooster in Ohio and spent four years traveling and cooking for a living before entering the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Hyde Park. His professional culinary journey was effectively launched in 1992, midway through studies at the CIA.
That was the year he took a cross-country leap, right into the kitchen of San Francisco's Stars. On a dare from a classmate, Powers called the restaurant and suggested that he was ready to do his required "externship" at the legendary restaurant. Then-Executive Chef Mark Franz answered the phone and invited him to join the team, sight unseen.
Under the mentorship of Franz and Chef/Owner Jeremiah Tower, Powers' externship at Stars set the course for more than 16 years of cooking "from the soul, from the hip, from the right brain and the left, and always with passion."
Following his CIA graduation with honors, Powers joined Stars as a full-time Chef de Partie and then as purchasing manager through 1995. While famous politicians, divas and glitterati wined and dined in the magical restaurant, Powers was behind the scenes, helping to make it all happen and mastering time-honored techniques applied to the best ingredients, deeply rooted in the rhythms of the seasons.
His Next Culinary Steps
In 1995, Powers joined the opening team at Hawthorne Lane, working with rising culinary stars Anne and David Gingrass. He held the positions of Poissonier and Sous Chef at this award-winning restaurant. In 1997, Powers rejoined his mentor, Mark Franz, helping him open Farallon, Franz's tribute to seafood. He worked with him for the next six years, moving up to Chef de Cuisine, a position he held for four years. Then, says Powers, his "inner ski bum" kicked in and he took off for a year of skiing while cooking at Moody's Bistro at Lake Tahoe and then launching "Ethereal Private Chef Service."
He eventually moved back to San Francisco and joined Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. After filling in as an interim chef at the Grand Café, he moved back east to Cambridge, working as executive chef at the east-coast version of Salt Lake City's Bambara Restaurant. There he met his now-wife, and life took a detour to Utah. Her family owned a home in Park City, another top ski destination, and that's where they happily settled. Once again following his passions, Powers took the helm at Salt Lake's Bambara in November 2008.
Bringing His Craft to Bambara in Salt Lake City
Though he admits to a lifelong devotion to "all things Burgundian" (steak frites with Béarnaise is a favorite), Powers' menus at Bambara embrace straightforward New American fare, including sparkling fresh seafood and hearty game. Powers has a lifelong love of skiing, Ferraris, and a fetish for Italian bicycles. In fact, he collects, builds and sometimes sells them. His current masterpiece is a vintage Colnago. An avid game cook, Powers has recently taken up hunting with his new father-in-law.
Q&A with Chef Powers
We hear you're a knife guy.
Knives are something I collect, appreciate and totally dork out about. Let's say it's a Sunday and I'm at home and have just grilled a fat steak. It's resting on the cutting board and everyone is sitting down to dinner. I'm drooling over the array of knives in front of me and trying to decide which to honor this steak with. It's like a car collector trying to decide which auto to cruise around in on a fine morning. To me, knives are a fascinating balance of craftsmanship, art, tradition, history, utility and beauty. It's interesting because food and cooking share all of these attributes.
How do you put all of your knives to work?
I have a couple hundred and always have one on me, almost like a watch or jewelry! This is mostly for work. Some knives never leave my safe (mostly hunting knives), some only get used for special dinners at home, and others are so utilitarian I open pickle buckets with them or use them as box-cutters.
What are the knives you couldn't do without?
My three main everyday work knives are a small 7-inch Japanese Chef's knife that I sharpen maybe three times a month, a 9-inch slicer called a Brieto Sujihiki that I rarely sharpen and could shave with, and a cheap German Forschner boning knife that I have had since 1988 and have sharpened so many times that it's barely a ¼" wide.
What do you like to cut – meat or fish?
Technique-wise I think I'm a very good butcher. I definitely prefer cutting meat over fish. This year I processed from start to finish my brother-in-law's 900-pound elk that he got while hunting. The simple glory of slicing our 12-oz. Dry Aged New York for our steak frites into "thin but not too thin" rosy slices and shingling it on a large, stark white oval platter pretty much makes my day every time.
How do you best care for a good knife?
Carbon steel knives rust easily, and you clean them with a green scrub pad with a mixture of soap and oil. Cleaning regular stainless steel knives is pretty straightforward – just clean and rinse dry.
And how about tips for handling knives safely?
The best knife safety line I ever heard was, "Ancient Chinese proverb – falling knives have no handles." If you drop a knife, get out of the way!