Timberline Lodge, Ore.
When Leif Benson made his first visit to Timberline Lodge on Oregon's Mt. Hood, the weather was fierce and the food forgettable. Still, he decided to accept the position of executive chef. "I saw it as raw potential to do some great culinary work," he remembers. "I'd had restaurants in Mendocino, Calif., and the Oregon mountains just seemed like a magical place."
That was in 1979. Today, there is as much magic in the dishes that Benson creates as there is in the sunset view from the Cascade Dining Room's linen-covered tables.
Heavily involved in the worldwide promotion of Oregon products (he travels regularly to Asia), Benson takes advantage of the flood of local bounty from organic micro-farmers, fishermen and purveyors when the warmer weather kicks in. "The Northwest really comes alive during the summer," he says. "It makes creating menus very rewarding."
Locally prized marionberries, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries turn up in jams, sauces, salad dressing and desserts. Wild Copper River salmon, another treasure, is a regular in-season offering. Ditto lamb loin stuffed with savory cherry compote and served with pinot noir demi-glace. A heavily Oregon- and Washington-weighted wine list-touted as the largest in the state-rounds out the dining experience.
After more than two decades there, and the restaurant's significant success, Benson still doesn't feel he's reached his potential. "I'm always pushing the envelope. I want to do everything I can possibly do as a chef," he says.
Easy Like Sunday Morning
Sunday is the perfect day to slow down. Brunch is the perfect excuse. Here are two favorites.
Mother Nature's Market
To say chef Joel Quentin is picky about his ingredients is an understatement. The 20-year veteran of Restaurant Peppino, in the postcard-perfect ski village of Villars in the Swiss Alps, can be seen daily in a golf cart foraging the countryside for some 120 varieties of flowers, herbs and plants. Back in the kitchen, he artfully combines his picks with products of local purveyors. Try smoked farm cheese with greens in an elderberry-honey vinaigrette, game hens flavored with wild garlic, and alpine meadow strawberries with geranium ice cream-all wildly delicious.