As the red and green of the winter holidays fade away, imagine those colors coming back into focus as slices of green and red jalapeños in the kitchen of a’Tavola Gourmet Marketplace and Café in Boise. These vibrant ingredients sit in large mixing bowls waiting for a’Tavola’s owner, Lisa Peterson, to gently press them into glass jars for pickling.
Peterson works off an old family recipe she’s stored on her smartphone while her father, Robert Rodriguez, mans the stove to heat a vinegary pickling mixture that is poured into these jars. Over time, the jalapeños’ spicy crunch will be transformed into the soft, sweet-andsour tang of bread-and-butter-style peppers.
While Peterson pickles jalapeños with her father, her son, Lorin, drops by the kitchen. The gathering of three generations at a’Tavola is emblematic of how food is closely tied together with family for the Petersons. In fact, the word “Family” is literally spelled out in cursive on Lorin’s right forearm in the form of a highly stylized tattoo.
Peterson first learned about food “at her father’s knees” by helping him cook meals for family and friends in California, where she grew up. “We loved to feed people,” she says. “We had dinner together every night at 5:30, and you never missed dinner.” After the meal, the family knew their guests were satisfied, often finding one of them asleep in the barber chair that sat in the living room.
Rodriguez, though, deflects any sort of credit for helping hone his daughter’s success in the food industry. He says, “I’m just her dad. I showed her how to eat.”
Yet, guidance from her father brought Peterson to Idaho nearly 30 years ago. Rodriguez had moved to McCall in 1980 and several years later heard a small wine and cheese shop was available. So Peterson moved to Idaho and opened the Eat Your Heart Out Deli in the mid-1980s.
Although Peterson spent her whole life cooking, she says she grew to love the food industry even more when she moved to Boise. Her passion for food and cooking fully came alive as manager of the Boise Coop deli, which she led for twenty years. She credits Ken Kavanagh, former Co-op president and general manager, with giving her the chance to be creative with food and to stock unique items not carried by conventional supermarkets.
Through the years, Peterson ran the Co-op deli full-time while also maintaining a catering business, managing food operations for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival (starting in 2005), and creating a preparedfoods delivery business that was, in essence, a first iteration of a’Tavola without the storefront.
In 2008, Peterson decided to leave the Co-op entirely to focus on other endeavors and build her own commercial kitchen. Over time, Peterson’s prepared-foods business, catering, and cooking classes grew in popularity. She also began opening temporary pop-up stores at her house because she missed baking and offering foods for sale at the retail level. All these different variations on the overall theme of food eventually grew into the current a’Tavola that Peterson opened in Boise’s Linen District with her family’s help in 2012.
The market and café is now a place where Peterson’s family, friends and guests can come together to celebrate food in all its forms. A’Tavola dominates the south side of Grove Street between 15th and 16th, with large garage doors that open onto a patio during warmer months. The words “Catering, Espresso, Café, Gourmet Marketplace, Bakery, and Take Away” are painted in white letters above the doors and are echoed on green and black banners on the sidewalk.
Walk into the marketplace and you’re greeted by a round wooden table full of a colorful assortment of plates, packaged chocolates, candles, cooking oils and other hard-to-find culinary treasures all topped by a “tranquility angel.”
Look to the right and a wooden communal table sits in front of an espresso machine and bakery display. To the far left is a longer wooden table that seats more than a dozen and draws your eye to a bookcase filled with cooking books and magazines. Cheeses, meats, deli offerings and refrigerator units with prepared foods take up the rest of the store. Though the entire space could best be described as industrial chic, with high ceilings and exposed air ducts, Peterson’s artful displays, shelves and wooden furniture create a cozy atmosphere where patrons can sip a bit of coffee or choose breakfast or lunch from dozens of deli items and hot entrées.
Travel is next on Peterson’s list of projects. She hopes to find an affordable way to share her love of food and travel with others. She visited farms, markets and artisan producers in Europe with her family several years ago, the type of trip she hopes to repeat later this year. Her goal is to organize such trips every year for herself and others. Her family, including her husband Peter and children Lorin, Grace and Emma, will, of course, travel with her.
Try this Recipe: Dad's Bread and Butter Jalapeños