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Canyon River Ranch

How fishing and friendship led to great food in the Canyon

Chef Kevin Davis (former owner of Steelhead Diner, Blueacre Seafood, Orfeo, Zane + Wylie's Seattle Steakhouse, Tempesta Coffee) has been fishing the Yakima River since he moved to Washington in 1999.

Chef Kevin Davis

He was drawn to the Yakima River Canyon by its unspoiled natural beauty and feisty resident wild rainbow trout (Washington state's only blue ribbon trout stream). He would often camp at the Umtanum Campground, spending his days exploring the river and his nights with meals cooked over a campfire. "I was captivated by Eastern Washington because it reminded me of my childhood and the summers I spent at my grandparents' ranch in eastern New Mexico. They are very similar, and I instantly felt at home," says Kevin.

Early on, Kevin met Steve Joyce who owned and guided out of Red's Fly Shop about a mile down the river and they immediately became friends. In 2002, Steve and his two partners purchased the Red's Campground property with dreams of building a first-class lodge, fly shop, and restaurant. That dream became a reality in August of 2009, as Canyon River Lodge was completed. The new Red's Fly Shop facility, complete with a little gem of a restaurant, was completed a few years later.

Steve Joyce

As Canyon River Grill neared completion in 2012, Steve asked Kevin to help with opening. Kevin provided input on floor plans, designed the logo and name, and brought an all-star staff over from Seattle to assist and train staff. He created the opening menu featuring his recipes and his general manager, Bruce Sturgeon, created the wine list and beverage program and trained the service staff. Kevin says at the time that he secretly dreamed of being the chef of the lodge although he assumed it would never be possible because of his obligations in Seattle. Nevertheless, he longed to return to country life after his time spent working in St. Helena, California, at Tra Vigne. It was a wonderful time he recalls, because he was able to work in a great restaurant and cook serious food, yet at the same time able to enjoy the outdoor things he was passionate about, mainly fly fishing, foraging, and growing vegetables.

As time went on, the restaurant and fishing continued, and Kevin and Steve's friendship grew. Fast forward to early 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic crisis. Kevin and his wife, Terresa, were forced to close their Seattle restaurants. One of the first phone calls Kevin made was to Steve Joyce. As it turns out, Steve had his own news; his chef of three years had just accepted a position and was moving, and he wondered if Kevin might recommend a chef. "I said yes, me!" Call it fate, or maybe divine intervention, but eight years after creating the opening menu, Kevin returned to the Canyon River Grill.

Kevin went to work immediately, reimagining the restaurant concept by researching and sourcing local ingredients, including locally-produced wines and beers and spirits, to create a unique menu. "In the Seattle market, locally grown often means in your state or the neighboring states. Here when you say locally grown you mean down the road! Think asparagus, stone fruit, tomatoes, peppers, onions, berries, cherries, apples, peaches, pears, and every type of squash and gourd imaginable. They all come from this area," notes Kevin. Additionally, Steve fulfilled another promise by quickly installing a chef's garden which Kevin planted with all sorts of vegetables, harvested, and used in the restaurant starting in early summer and continuing through the fall. "Having a garden and using the things I grew myself is something I've always dreamed of."

Dinner plates at the Grill, courtesy of Nick Jurich

In addition to the local fare that Central Washington is famous for, Kevin has maintained relationships with his seafood suppliers from the Seattle market. His nightly menu features fresh entrees that local customers don't get an opportunity to enjoy often and have appreciated very much. Steve notes, "Kevin's presence has expectedly made a noticeable impact. We are seeing guests, especially some who live locally, already returning again and again. People eat his food once, and they come back soon and with friends! In years past, if you polled the dining room on any given weekend, most patrons likely came to fish or hunt as their primary purpose, then ate because it was convenient. Guests are now coming specifically to eat Kevin's food. He would never brag about his accolades or cooking, but he's one of the true greats. It's a cool story - an amazing chef using the best products Washington has to offer to create great food in a very personal dining experience in the middle of the Yakima canyon. We look forward to the day when things return to normal and we can use this entire resort to full capacity, hosting business meetings, wine and beer dinners, and corporate events. In the meantime we will continue to put our best foot forward to ensure a quality experience for everyone who comes to visit us."

View table, courtesy of Nick Jurich

"I'm excited to meet my new neighbors from Ellensburg and Yakima, as well as see my old friends from Seattle," says Kevin. "I'm eager to work with the local growers, winemakers and brewers who are literally just down the road. All things taste better when you buy it from the person who produced it, and that is a fact. I know that I smiled all summer long every time I served something that I grew myself. The Yakima Canyon is where I always wanted to be and now I'm proud to call it my home."

Connie Adams/December 2020

Canyon River Ranch
14700 Hwy 821 near Mile Marker 15
Ellensburg, WA 98926

509-933-2100 Lodge Desk
509-933-2300 Red's Fly Shop
509-933-2309 Canyon River Grill

About Canyon River Ranch condos:

Condos have large windows facing the river and canyon walls with cottonwood trees lining the water. All have two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, laundry facilities, fireplaces, and full kitchens. Whether you're an outdoor sports enthusiast or just want a break, it's ideal. The outdoor pool and hot tub along the river complete the getaway. Per Steve, "There is space to spread out, so even the most sensitive people are comfortable. We offer remote check-in/out, and guests can dine in the Grill or pick food up and eat in their Lodge room.

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