The timing was uncanny.
Just as Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle, co-owners and chefs at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, started mailing the 1,700 pre-orders for their new cookbook, “This Immeasurable Place,” President Donald Trump was preparing to dismantle the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The 265-page book — part recipes, part stories, part glossy photographs — was written as a “love letter to the monument,” which serves as the backdrop to the award-winning Utah restaurant and the reason for its existence and popularity.
“Our land is our brand,” Spalding said. “We are of the monument.”
On Dec. 3, during a whirlwind trip to Salt Lake City, the president shrunk the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante into three smaller monuments covering about 1 million acres. He also split the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument into two smaller areas that together comprise about 202,000 acres.
Spalding called the timing “weirdly perfect.”
“When we started the cookbook, we didn’t think anything would happen to the monument,” she said. Fast-forward five years and the business owners are now part of a lawsuit filed by Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, one of five legal actions that have been filed so far to stop the changes.
Just how many guests have found Hell’s Backbone because of its location on the edge of wilderness? “All of them,” said Spalding. “Our restaurant wouldn’t exist without it.”
That sense of place resonates with guests, making Hell’s Backbone Grill one of Utah’s most decorated restaurants with dozens of local awards and mentions in national publications from Bon Appétit to The New York Times.
Each year the restaurant harvests some 20,000 pounds of food on its farm and several thousand more pounds of fruit from around the valley;much of it is pickled, frozen and preserved. The owners also work with area ranchers and farmers to buy grass-fed beef, lamb and anything else they don’t grow themselves. The restaurant is now closed for the winter, but will reopen in March, 2018.
“This Immeasurable Place: Food and Farming From the Edge of Wilderness” showcases 70 of the restaurant’s favorite creations, from the juniper lamb posole and braised beef with green chiles and marjoram to “Dreamy, Creamy, Hot and Steamy” oatmeal with caramel apple compote and pumpkin-apple soup.
“The soup is our No. 1 request,” said Spalding. “Jen developed the recipe and I bow deeply to her genius. There are surprise ingredients that make it unique and satisfying.”
While the first 3,000 cookbooks came off the presses in late November, the stash has been quickly depleted by 1,700 in pre-orders. Spalding and Castle will be selling and signing books in Salt Lake City this weekend at Ken Sanders Rare Books, The King’s English Bookshop and the Winter Market at Rio Grande. (See box.) They should have enough books to last through the holidays, but already have contacted the publishers about a second printing. Books are $40 each and also are available online.
The new publication is different from their first cookbook. “With a Measure of Grace” — published in 2004 with the help of Lavinia Spalding, Blake’s sister — took a “micro” look at the relationship between the restaurant and the local Boulder community. “It’s more about what it was like to start our Buddhist-based restaurant in an LDS town,” said Spalding.
“An Immeasurable Place” also includes Lavinia as an author and features images by photographer Ace Kvale. The title, with its intended nod to the first book, alludes to the four Buddhist virtues or “immeasurable qualities” that lead to happiness.
But it takes a broader view of the restaurant and its remote surroundings, Spalding said. ”It’s a story of food and farming and what it is to own and operate a business on the edge of such vast lands.”
Where to buy • Jen Castle and Blake Spalding, owners and chefs of Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, are in Salt Lake City this week to read from and sign from their new cookbook, “This Immeasurable Place.”
Friday, Dec. 15 • 7 p.m., Ken Sanders Rare Books, 268 S. 200 East
Saturday, Dec. 16, • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Winter Market at Rio Grande Depot, 300 S. Rio Grande St.
Saturday, Dec. 16 • 7 p.m., The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East
Online • hellsbackbonegrill.com/