After 14 years, organic food icon Maria Hines closed her trailblazing Wallingford restaurant Tilth permanently in October 2020. Though the decision was an excruciating one, the James Beard Award-winning chef — who has a home out in Okanogan County — says she’s content to step back from the restaurant industry, and is now working on some exciting new projects that unite her passions for great food and the outdoors, including making energy bars.
Three years ago, Hines submitted a recipe for the Seattle Times for a homemade macadamia-banana crunch bar, and co-wrote a book called Peak Nutrition, which includes various recipes for bars, trail mixes, and other easy-to-pack snacks for outdoor adventures. Her efforts in this realm eventually caught the attention of North Bend-based startup Sno-Valley Dream Factory, who reached out to Hines to develop more recipes. With help from a Kickstarter campaign, Cynergy Foods was born.
Hines says the main goal for the collaboration was to offer something more nutrient-dense than other energy bars, with a better texture and flavor. “Most commercial energy bars don’t have a healthy nutrition label ... they’re like candy bars; too much sugar, not enough protein,” she says, noting that she’s long made her own energy bars to support her many outdoor interests, including hiking and rock climbing. “Other [energy bars] are too dry or crumbly, or medicinal in taste.”
The Cynergy bars come in flavors like chocolate almond goji cherry, chocolate raisin tahini, and yogurt berries, with the chocolate almond goji cherry available in limited quantities online at the moment. Hines says the hope is to expand its reach, possibly getting the bars into large retailers such as Whole Foods and Costco down the line. “We found a lot of bars on the market were taking away energy rather than giving,” she says. “I like bars with good moisture, nutrient dense, and have high fiber levels.”
While Cynergy is still gaining some momentum, Hines has also been involved in other endeavors that combine her love of the outdoors and organic food. She has a partnership with clothing giant Eddie Bauer on developing some of the company’s lifestyle content, including recipes and nutrition tips. The chef also recently launched a YouTube cooking series with Seattle-based outdoor and fitness retailer REI. The first episode debuted in late June and features pasta made over a campfire, a recreation of an experience Hines had at Yosemite Valley with a limited amount of equipment. Hines will film around three videos a month, including a kayaking-themed episode and ones that highlight local farms.
These projects come on the heels of Hines’s early 2021 charity pop-up with wine club XOBC Cellars (co-founded by singer Brandi Carlile) that featured a multi-course takeout menu of vegetarian comfort food at SoDo Urban Works. Whether the chef will eventually return to the Seattle food scene (or Seattle at all) is still up in the air, though. For the moment, Hines says she’s happy exploring different avenues focused on the relationship between outdoors and nutrition, and has other food-related projects in the works for 2021.
“I find that being in the digital space, I can reach more people than I did with the brick and mortar,” she says. “This is my dream job.”