I spent an evening and a day with the proprietors, chef, expo, expeditor, server, host, wife, husband, father, and mother, of CJ’s Grill in Mammoth Lakes. Carrie and Jason Hoeltzel.
Why all the preceding titles? Because when you take in all of the things Carrie and Jason have to do during the day, I begin to question if I’m working hard enough?!
Being a mother or father of two children is a full time job. Having to work the floor or cook in a restaurant is ANOTHER full time job. So when I dropped by the Mammoth Farmer’s Market at 4:00pm and ran in to Carrie managing the booth for CJ’s homemade sauces and dressings, WITH an infant, only to find out that Carrie will then be running the Expo at the restaurant by 6:30pm AND considering I kept her up till closing the night before, I was beginning to wonder if she had a twin sister in town.
Meanwhile, Jason was already manning the kitchen for lunch and dinner that day. I stopped in just around the start of dinner service on the second day I was in town to watch the action and get behind the scenes of a local Mammoth favorite.
The evening before, I sampled several dishes, the smoked Alpers trout mousse, Caesar salad, and their 3 1/2 year old's favorite Mac and Cheese. Although their son recommended a hot dog with my Mac, I opted for the more grown up filet to top mine.
I was particularly interested in the Alpers trout mousse, as it was be featured in our combined Trout Seminar and Wine Pairing at the Mammoth Food and Wine Experience. Whether it's called a dip, pate', spread, or mousse, what I wanted to get to was the flavor. Pureed to a smooth consistency, the mid palate has an obvious, light sweet smoke flavor; while the back palate has a hint of heat from the cajun style seasoning Jason applies to the trout.
Naturally, my mind wanders to..."I could use this trout flavor profile to stuff in ravioli and finish with a tomato vodka cream sauce"...but I digress.
Jason and Carrie emphasize their committment to making scratch sauces, dressings, and dips. Mac and Cheese Sauce...scratch made. Caesar dressing...scratch. BBQ Sauce...scratch. These were the sauces and dressings that Carrie was selling at the Mammoth Farmer's Market earlier that day.
I can say with certainty, trusting Jason and Carrie's son was a good idea. My Mac and Cheese was cheesy and the pasta was cooked properly. It's a generous portion for me, a mountain size portion of Mac.
In addition to emphasizing scratch sauces and dressings, desserts are also made in-house, including various ice cream flavors. As I was dining toward the end of service, much of what CJ's sells is often sold out before the end of an evening, only to be prepared the next day.
I'm still awed by all the things Jason and Carrie are doing as a team, as a couple, as a Chef and Front-of-House Manager. The restaurant business isn't easy, having two young children isn't easy. Being a wife/husband/mother/father/chef/owner isn't easy.
But maybe that's the point, if it was easy, anyone could do it.
Carrie and Jason aren't just anyone...they're amazing!
343 Old Mammoth Road
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546