January is when things get busy in Sundance, Utah: the prodigious snowfalls mark the beginning of the real ski season, and with the annual Sundance Film Festival, Hollywood descends in droves on this small resort village. Not coincidentally, it's also the month that Jason Knibb, the resort's talented executive chef, refers to as Power Breakfast Time.
The skiers and moviegoers don't overlap much, except in the morning. "Everyone shows up for breakfast," says Knibb, noting that they all order big meals to keep up their energy through the long days of, alternatively, runs down Mount Timpanogos or back-to-back screenings of independently produced movies. "You can tell the film festival crowd just by what they ordera lot more tofu," he adds. "And of course they're wearing a lot more black."
Knibb, 32, knows Hollywood. Born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, he grew up in southern California, which is where he started working in restaurantsfirst busing tables, then graduating to the kitchen when someone got hurt and eventually getting fired for taking a few days off to surf in a competition in Mexico. But having found his métier, he went on to work with such celebrated chefs as Wolfgang Puck and Roy Yamaguchi. He traded in his surfboard for a snowboard when he moved to Sundance in 1998 to become sous chef under Trey Foshee (an F&W Best New Chef that year). When Foshee left, Knibb took over.
The back of his kitchen is about 50 yards from one of the resort's chairlifts"a snowball's throw away," says Knibb, who likes to brainstorm the evening's specials on the ride up. (After a really good morning, he'll bring his gear into the kitchen, just to make the other cooks jealous.) But he always stops to eat breakfast. "When you're outside in freezing temperatures at this altitude, your body needs energy to keep it from getting cold."
After all the overindulgence of the holiday season, and especially during the film festival, Knibb's customers often ask him to reduce the fat in his most popular breakfast dishes. So he makes his smoked trout, potato and corn hash with just a small amount of oil, and he substitutes bakery white bread for brioche in his French toast topped with sautéed apples, finishing them with maple syrup instead of apple cider-rum butter. Knibb himself leans toward spicy Southwestern dishes, like huevos rancheros, which he prepares with just enough pepper Jack cheese to sandwich the tortillas, and with a few slices of avocado instead of the usual dollop of guacamole.
Jerry Warren, director of skiing and mountain operations at Sundance, approves of Knibb's approach. "When students are heading out for a full day of skiing," he says, "I tell them to eat a lot of carbs with a little bit of protein and some fruit. The carbs quickly refuel your muscles; the protein gives longer-term replenishment." He notes that while everyone needs a little fat to help absorb vitamins, high-fat dishes generally don't have much fiber; this means that the body digests them more slowly and that they don't provide energy efficiently. Warren likes Knibb's granola, made with less oil and fewer almonds, pecans and sunflower seeds than usual, and his airy egg-white omelet, topped with roasted leeks, fennel, tomatoes and goat cheese. "Anything you can do to eat your vegetables before you go skiing," he says, "is great."
Warren frequently skies with Sundance's owner, Robert Redford, who's a conscientious member of the Power Breakfast Club. "Bob will blast out of a meeting to nab a couple of hours skiing," he says, "but then he'll catch himself and stop to eat." Although Warren hasn't seen any festivalgoers stumble out of a screening room because they skipped breakfast, he has no doubt that it could happen: "Those guys need to eat to keep going. They run around and get more exercise than a lot of athletes."
Kate Krader is a New York-based freelance writer and a former editor ofFood & Wine.