Two Women, a Restaurant, and a Farm | Blake Spalding & Jen Castle | TEDxParkCity

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Blake Spalding and Jen Castle are the chef/owners of Hell's Backbone Grill and Farm in Boulder, Utah. They are interviewed by Teri Orr, founder of TEDxParkCity. Their discussion ranges over the challenges of the restaurant business, and threats to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which is the location of their restaurant and farm. Blake is chef/owner of Hell's Backbone Grill and Farm in Boulder, Utah, along with her friend Jen Castle. She follows Buddhist principles, with a commitment to sustainability, environmental ethics, and social and community responsibility. Blake began working in the restaurant world at an early age and at the age of sixteen moved with her family to Flagstaff, Arizona. In her twenties Blake began cooking as a river chef, mostly on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and continued to do this for many years. She also worked for Greenpeace, during which she helped with an anti-pesticide campaign that inspired her passion for organics, sustainability, and all things biochemically and genetically unaltered. While working as a river chef, she began another career: “extreme catering”—cooking in remote, isolated locations, including a deserted island in the Bahamas and the Amazon rainforest. She also opened a catering business in Flagstaff. As a practicing Buddhist, she was often asked to cook for Tibetan lamas, and this directed her relationship with food into one fused with spirituality and meaning. In the year 2000, the opportunity to own Hell’s Backbone Grill presented itself, and she moved to Boulder with her friend in cooking, Jen Castle.

Jen is chef/owner of Hell's Backbone Grill and Farm in Boulder, Utah, along with her friend in cooking Blake Spalding. Jen grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she was taught to prepare New Mexican and Polish cuisine by her mother and twelve aunts and uncles, who viewed mass-quantity cooking as standard procedure. She began cooking and experimenting with food when she was a very young child, spending much of her free time in the kitchen, imitating the tastes she grew up around and always making enough food to feed a crowd. She later moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where she worked at Macy’s European Coffee House, Bakery and Vegetarian Restaurant and learned the ins and outs of running a restaurant: ordering, organizing, time and staff management, recipe-writing, and multi-tasking. This was where she learned to cook multiple major items simultaneously. While working at Macy’s, Jen also began cooking for trips on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, for groups of thirty or so trail-crew workers for weeks at a time, and later she continued to do outdoor catering for more river and backcountry trips. She traveled extensively and discovered culinary inspiration in foreign cultures. Jen moved to Boulder in 2000 to open Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm with her friend Blake. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at
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