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Alumni chef Kris Komori dazzles diners in Boise

If there has been one constant in the life of Kris Komori, it’s change. He wanted to study audio engineering in college; instead, biology caught his eye at The College of Idaho. He interned at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Boise and took the MCATs in preparation for medical school.

But then another passion started to boil over.

While working a college job at the Mona Lisa fondue restaurant, Kris developed an interest in cooking. And after graduating in 2005, Komori decided culinary school, not med school, would be his choice.

“I didn’t have too much cooking experience at that point,” he said. “I mean zero, other than melting cheese. But I knew I liked the industry.”

Today, Komori is chef de cuisine of State and Lemp, a small, fine-dining establishment in Boise that exudes a dinner-party-at-your-house feel. He’s lives in Boise with his wife, Allyson Komori (Coonts) ’06, and newborn son, Everett. And these days, he can definitely do more than melt cheese.

In 2015, Komori was nominated for People’s Best New Chef by Food and Wine Magazine. And this past winter, Komori was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Northwest—one of the most prestigious honors in the culinary world.

Komori credits the success of his cooking to the small size and prix fixe menu of State and Lemp. Both allow the chef and his team to experiment and have creative control of the menu, which is driven by fresh produce. Right now, the five-course nightly menu features a dish of wild currant with golden trout from Hagerman, Idaho, cured on wild herbs, green peach, crème fraîche, and Vollkornbrot (German rye bread).

“Since I’ve changed what I’ve wanted to do so often in the past, this is a great place for me,” Komori said. “I’ve known that I need something to throw me off-balance a little bit. Constantly changing the menu is the change that I need in my life.”

But Komori didn’t start out as head chef at State and Lemp.

After stops at kitchens in Seattle and Portland, Komori returned to Boise when Allyson started her medical school residency at the Boise V.A. While working the Boise farmers market for Sweet Valley Organics, Komori heard word of a new restaurant opening in town. So he rode his bike to State and Lemp with resume in hand. Owners Jay Henry and Remi McManus were remodeling the building when Komori walked in. The group had a beer, talked, and the next day Komori was putting down carpet. A few weeks later, Henry and Komori cooked together for a small dinner party, and the rest is history.

“The entire day [cooking], it was fun,” Henry said. “There was some really good, serious conversation, but there was way more joking, laughing, and personality. To me, that said everything I needed to know [about Kris].”

When figuring out his next menu, Komori borrows from the artistic and engineering specialties of his parents, his biology background, and even a few C of I connections. He’s foraged for wild ingredients with C of I botany professor Dr. Don Mansfield and fellow alum Michael Bowers ’06, and he buys meat from alumna Janie Burns ’77 of Meadowlark Farm in Nampa.

It’s all done to create food that is unique in flavor and look, but still has a comfort-food-esque feel. After all, Komori says, the best compliment is when someone says ‘that dish reminded me of my grandma’s….’

“It’s a really fun process,” he said. “It’s hard, for sure. You hit the wall and get blocks creatively, but I can’t imagine working in any other place.”

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.