As much as Durangoans love food, they aren’t willing to travel far for it. At least, that’s what Jeremy Storm, chef at The Container of Food at Ska Brewing Co., has experienced.
“It’s amazing how hard it is to get people to travel – especially out to Bodo Park – if they live on the north side of town,” Storm said, adding that there is a reason there are north and south locations for Zia Taqueria and Serious Texas Bar-B-Q, even though they are only four miles apart.
“There is still great potential locally to introduce people,” he said.
The Container opened five years ago. Its casual yet high-quality menu not only represents Ska Brewing’s ethos of nutrition and sourcing local, it also reflects Storm’s simple lifestyle – he is in the process of converting a school bus into a tiny home. The menu also mirrors Storm’s culinary background, which is heavily centered around connecting food to geography.
Cooking DNA“I have been in a kitchen since I was 13 – for 30 years now,” Storm said. “I started in Pennsylvania, where I grew up scrubbing pots.”
But Storm’s link to the culinary world began before washing scraps off dirty dishes. It’s in his DNA. He was raised by his grandmother, who grew up outside of Paris and moved to America as a World War II bride. His great-grandmother was a chef for French diplomats before the war.
“(My grandmother) is 94 years old now. She’s a great cook, so I’ve always been influenced by regional French cuisine. And certainly at culinary school, that is the basis of your education, so I still gravitate toward that style of food a lot,” Storm said.
His grandmother taught him to make eggs in a cast-iron skillet, homemade donuts, french fries and swiss steak way before he attended The Culinary Institute of America in New York. He graduated in 1995, one week before his 21st birthday. The next year, he began working for a restaurant group called Capital Restaurant Concepts in Washington, D.C., where he worked his way up the ranks to become a regional chef.
Storm taught at the New England Culinary Institute from 2001 to 2003 and again from 2005 to 2006. In between, he worked in Alaska, where he sipped coffee overlooking the ocean before starting his shifts in the kitchen of an adventure lodge. He worked as a commercial fisherman and for the nonprofit Eyak Preservation Council, which introduces people to the salmon habitat of Alaska’s Copper River.
“I guided 10-day float trips down the Copper River to show people the life cycle and migration of the Pacific salmon,” he said. “We’d catch fish along the way and eat them. We had an eagle-caught salmon for dinner once. An eagle caught a beautiful sockeye, a red salmon, and ate part of its head, left the nice meaty piece and just took off. ... We figured it was an offering.”
Experiences like this sparked Storm’s interest in the relationship between food and the location from which it is sourced.
Food and place“The connection to food and place and where food is sourced from is so in-your-face (in Alaska),” Storm said. “The whole community exists only because the salmon return every year. You can’t not notice and you can’t help but let that have an influence on what you’re making.”
Storm wanted to escape Alaska’s cold winters and had a friend who worked at Ska. In 2012, the Zia airstream truck was leaving the Ska location to open a brick-and-mortar business. Ska’s owners were looking to replace the concept. The Container opened in August 2013.
“Nobody had any food experience,” said Ska co-owner Dave Thibodeau. Storm was a good fit for the food program because he shares the same attitude as the brewery’s founders about sourcing local.
“He thinks like I do when it comes to nutrition,” said Thibodeau, who has been a long-time vegetarian.
Storm added a jerk tempeh sandwich dubbed The Dave to the menu in honor of Thibodeau. Thibodeau jokes that it is because he was such a jerk about having a vegan option on the menu.
When planning The Container’s menu, Storm spent time ruminating on the origins of ska music. Luckily, he still had access to his old college’s scholarly article database for research. “My introduction to ska was pretty limited. It was No Doubt in the ’90s and those kinds of groups – which is third-wave, very different from its origins,” Storm said.
Storm discovered that the genre formed as R&B and jazz music was broadcast over AM waves from places like New Orleans and southern Texas directly to the Caribbean, spawning reggae, rocksteady and ska.
“I was figuring out the geography of where the music started to see if we can blend some of that food into it,” Storm said.
The Container’s menu consists of many traditional pub-style items, but the ska music origin story is incorporated in items like the Creole-inspired dishes such as jerk marinade chicken, chicken wings and smoked foods.
“(The food) ties together the history of the music, but it’s also tied to our beers,” Thibodeau said.
Many items, such as the pulled pork sandwich made with Steel Toe Stout barbecue sauce, incorporate Ska brews into the recipe.
The small container that houses the kitchen represents a piece of Storm, too. Storm helped design and lay out the restaurant. The skills he developed in doing so have been essential in Storm’s new tiny-home project.
“They are very similar builds,” Storm said. “We are setting up our tiny house to have a nice-size kitchen in it. We got a French door fridge for the bus.”