Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Montana Master Chefs

Don't be fooled by the title.  I am not officially a "master chef," but it sounds pretty cool.

MMC is a culinary weekend set in one of the most beautifully remote places in the country.  I was invited by the crew organizers at Paws Up Resort and the mirthful John Romfo.  I have been looking forward to this event for some time, as I was invited in March.  Stephanie Izard (Top Chef Season 4) had told me it was one of her favorite events of the year.  I was asked to put together a dinner with Stephanie where we paired our courses with some of Stag Leap's finest wines.  Not the worst mission I've ever been tasked.  The dinner was to be followed by an "Iron Chef" style cook-off the following day.  So all I had to plan was the dinner and figure out if I wanted to fly fish, shoot skeet, ride horses, atv, hunt mushrooms, just relax, or all of the above.  Again....not the worst thing I've gotten myself into this year.

I flew out last Thursday in a VERY small airplane.   This was one of those rides where we had to move seats until the plane was balanced.  It was a really cool ride, however, as we flew fairly low over the newly-snow-dusted Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.  When I arrived, I was picked up at gate 2 of 2 in Missoula Airport by Brandon (one of the MANY incredibly happy-to-please employees) and rode in with John of Frog's Leap Winery.

I met up with Stephanie and her sous chef Dave and we did some prep work for the dinner the following day.  That night we attended the Frog's Leap wine dinner cooked by Wes Coffel of Paws Up.  The meal and wine were both killer but the highlight was the stories told by John.  My favorite quote of the night was, "wine is like people:  if you're ugly when you're young, you'll be ugly when you mature!"  Quips like that kept the room in stitches all night.

Dinner was followed by even more wine consumption back at the massive cabin Steph, Dave and I were staying in for the weekend.  The snow started dumping and we dipped into the hot tub.  Let me tell you, if you've never soaked in a hot tub surrounded by wilderness with snowflakes falling, you haven't lived!

Friday was our big dinner with Stags Leap Winery.  We ended up prepping and serving 7 courses with 6 wines.  The condensed menu:  1) dungeness crab trio with avocado panna cotta, fennel pollen and citrus;  2) seared squab breast and braised leg with squash and shrimp hash;  3) braised pork belly with brussels sprouts, fingerlings, and pomegranate brown butter;  4) local elk with kohlrabi and smoked apple butter  5) local bison with porcini crust, sunchoke puree, local foraged mushrooms, and huckleberry demi glace;  6)  smokey blue cheese with caramelized honey and bacon breadcrumbs;  7) chocolate cake with frozen nougat, peach, and red wine caramel.

The dinner was very well received.  One of the invited chefs was Kent Rathbun.  When he had the pork belly he winked at me and gave me the thumbs up.  He was either asking me for a date or loved the dish.  I'm going with the latter.   I felt so good about the success of our dinner that I may have celebrated a little too much that night.  More wine...more hot tubbing...and not enough sleep....

Saturday morning I was supposed to go fly fishing on the Blackfoot River with the guides at Paws Up.  Between the 2 hours of sleep, the headache, and the fact that it was six below zero that morning, I didn't make it to the shove-off at 8am.  I felt terrible.  I not only made the reservation to fish with these guys, met them and talked fish the day before, but I knew my buddies back in Boulder were going to give me a very hard time for not going out.  Oops.

Later that afternoon, after a power nap, Stephanie and I made our way to the refurbished cattle auction that housed the chef competition.  We had to act as advisors to the two couples that competed in the first round.  I was happy to lend a hand and not be on stage that first round as it gave my shaking hands time to settle (and they weren't shaking from the nerves...it was the lack of sleep and the alcohol poisoning).  Our "Iron Chef" style battle included eggs as the secret ingredient and we had 20 minutes to make a dish.  I beat her with the trivia question and had the advantage of choosing which variety of eggs we would each use.  I tried to be nice by not making Steph use the black eggs (Chinese 100 year eggs as they're called) and just gave her the pickled eggs.  I used caviar on some oysters as a first course and followed up with "steak and eggs" - filet mignon with bacon-chile hash, poached quail eggs, and brown butter hollandaise.  Steph threw together some bowl of who-knows-what that she couldn't even describe.  I think the judges were so surprised that she pulled together something edible considering her mood and the presentation that they gave her the win.  Total score:  135 to 134.  So close.....

her messy station

We celebrated one more night and had a blast.  Overall the experience was fantastic and I feel like I definitely made some new friends.  I hope to be back soon and I think there is already something in the works for the spring.  I can't wait.

1 comment:

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