[Courtesy photo]

A lot of businesses are closed this time of year in Moab, especially restaurants and other businesses that rely on tourist traffic to keep books balanced. Sabaku Sushi is no exception, but its doors will still be open for the next three Sundays of winter break, as WabiSabi takes the space over to kick off its 2016 Meals Program with its annual winter community Sunday brunch.

Although she and her wife are keeping their pet supply and service shop, The Moab BARKery, open for the winter, Kaye Davis intimately understands the dynamics of winter in Moab. It’s a hard time for a lot of people – business owners and employees alike. Investing her time and skills as a chef behind the stove as the executive chef for WabiSabi’s Meals Program brings her huge happiness dividends, she said, and she believes wholeheartedly in its mission to nourish the community’s souls as well as bellies.

Davis and her wife, Jessica Turquette, moved to Moab after a round of layoffs forced them to leave high-paying jobs as stockbrokers, and the new lifestyle in rural southern Utah required some adjustments. They’ve embraced the opportunity to reconnect with people and the land.

“We’ve enjoyed simplifying life since coming here,” Davis said. “You learn to look at resources in a new way. I don’t think I’d ever want to make that kind of money again.”

The couple got their start at the Castle Valley Bed and Breakfast, which was then still run by Turquette’s parents. Two years later, Davis began working at Red Cliffs Lodge, which she credits with launching her culinary journey. Later, she managed the Moonflower Community Cooperative deli for two years. Over the years, she has developed close relationships with local farmers and developed a knack for making full use of all she can procure from their annual harvest.

“She is absolutely amazing, and absolutely instrumental,” WabiSabi Executive Director Mandy Turner said. “She’s really taken this program to the next level. She’s very knowledgeable about nutritious food, very aware of allergies and special dietary restrictions for people, and she knows how many people have them. She’s also very interested in local farming and getting food for people from their own backyard.”

Last year, Davis spent more than 600 hours sourcing and preparing fresh, local, delicious meals for thousands of community members. She makes use of “ugly” but otherwise perfectly fine produce that would otherwise be difficult for farmers to sell at retail prices. Between the Sunday brunches, 12 community lunches in the park April through July, events dinners and a farm dinner hosted by the Youth Garden Project, Davis is able to make use of most of the food she finds right away. If she can’t, though, she puts in additional hours freezing, bottling and otherwise preserving the harvest.

Her ultimate goal is to provide community members with one free, wholesome, locally sourced meal per week, every week of the year, she said.

“This meals program is food with integrity,” she said. “It’s showing that we can turn viable local produce into healthy, filling, soul-satisfying meals, and people can say, ‘Hey, I had a good meal this week.’”

This profile was made possible by the generous support of Rocky Mountain Power.

This Week: Kaye Davis