New Chef in Town: Skamania Lodge, WA

Photo © Skamania Lodge

by Allen Cox

Skamania Lodge is the quintessential Cascadian-style resort, complete with the casual elegance you’d expect in such a property—soaring lobby with massive fireplace, warm wood interior, glass walls overlooking a forested mountain view, all supported by massive wooden beams. It has a special place in defining the character of the Northwest and, when guests check in, the setting hints at the days ahead. All aspects of the lodge reflect the mood of Cascades, a place where hiking boots and fleece are more commonplace than a blazer, even in the lodge’s Cascade Dining Room and the more casual River Rock restaurant.

With the newly recruited Chef Mark Henry at the culinary helm, Skamania Lodge is poised to wow guests with cuisine that fits the lodge’s personality. Chef Henry believes in simplicity when it comes to the food he serves. He also believes in supporting local producers of quality ingredients, and that commitment has earned him a green certification.

Chef Henry utters one phrase and you know he’s not from Skamania County. It’s the direct, streetwise cadence of the Jersey Shore you detect.

His compositions are straightforward, like he is, and satisfying to the palate and appetite, with enough artistic subtlety thrown into the presentation to impress the eye. Chef Henry is not a fan of some trends in cooking; techniques like molecular gastronomy have no place in his kitchen. “When I go out to eat, I don’t want beet foam on my plate, I want a beet,” he says.
Chef Henry started his restaurant career more than 30 years ago by washing dishes on the Jersey Shore. A spark ignited and he enrolled at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. After graduation, he learned the trade at The Plaza in New York City, Marriott’s Camelback Inn in Scottsdale and the Marriott Downtown Waterfront in Portland, OR.

A key part of Chef Henry’s strategy in transforming the food at Skamania Lodge is in elevating his staff. That doesn’t mean bringing in star chefs from the metro areas from which he hails. It does mean mentoring and training the kitchen and dining room staff, all hungry for his culinary and service knowledge. He views this as a crucial means of keeping local workers employed, another reflection of his personal values.

Chef Henry’s favorite dish? Rainbow Trout with local lobster mushrooms and golden beets. Typical of what you might find as a special offering at Skamania Lodge.

Skamania Lodge is located 45 miles east of Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA, in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It’s an all-season, 175-acre mountain resort and conference center, and boasts dozens of options designed for recreation and relaxation, including Waterleaf Spa, zip lines and an 18-hole championship golf course.

To book a stay at Skamania Lodge, go online at skamania.com. To learn more about visiting the scenic Columbia River Gorge, go to crgva.org.