Dinner Out in Bozeman

Bozeman, Montana is known for many things, but food generally doesn’t make the list. So, what do you do when two world renown chefs visit you in Bozeman? Especially if you’re an unabashed “foodie?” I recently faced such a challenge.

Stephan Pyles, a living legend in food circles and dear friend for over 3 decades, and Katherine Clapner, whom I’ve known for 25 plus years, arrived on a late Sunday night flight from Dallas, accompanied by the effervescent Scotty Branks, for a 3-dinner Montana vacation. We were all in “Celebration” mode—Scotty just earned his PhD, Katherine turned 50, I turned 65, my Dearest beat-back nasty cancer, and Stephan opened yet another new and highly acclaimed Dallas restaurant. Stephan is deservedly basking in the spotlight these days with August 2014 editorials that include Texas Monthly prominently featuring him as one of the prime originators of Southwestern Cuisine, D Magazine naming his fried chicken at Stampede 66 (one of his 3 Arts District Dallas restaurants) as the best fried chicken in Dallas, and D Magazine also writing a rave 3-page review of his most recent Dallas restaurant, San Salvaje. Then, there’s Time Out, Melbourne naming his Sky Canyon restaurant at DFW Airport as one of the Top 5 Airport restaurants in the world.

Katherine Clapner (check out these videos!!) is the genius behind the three Dude Sweet Chocolate stores in Dallas. Her culinary career, begun in earnest at the Culinary Institute of America, centered first on being one of the world’s top pastry chefs, working for notables Charlie Trotter in Chicago, the Savoy in London, Cipriani in Venice, and then for Stephan Pyles at one of his former restaurants, Star Canyon, which is where I first met her. She’s now Dallas’ premier chocolaterie as well as a spokesperson for Wusthof Knives and Valrhona Chocolate. She’s a force of nature that exudes passion and perfection in everything she does. She’s funny and super talented, curious, and fairly intense. What’s not to respect and adore?

Bozeman Dinner Bozeman-Luxury-Real-Estate
Sally Uhlmann, Stephan Pyles, Katherine Clapner, Scott
Branks in Bozeman, Montana

The cliché in Montana is: “Seven months of winter and 5 months of guests” I take my hostess duties seriously, and given Stephan and Katherine’s level of food and years of being professional diners, I spent the week prior to their arrival planning the meal progression. Breakfast is a snap: plenty of fresh-ground Peet’s coffee and eggs from my flock of chickens accompanied with tender waffles, blueberry pancakes, or homemade toast and jam. Lunch would on the go and casual, leaving dinner as the primary concern.

A decade in Bozeman has impressed upon me that you never go wrong taking your guests for a day of drift boat fishing on the Yellowstone River. Monday–Day One–and time to ease away Dallas stress by letting them cast a fly into the wild river. My favorite guide, Will Lassiter, arranged our two boats and wisely ordered perfect salads prepared by Mustang Catering in Livingston. Owner/Chef Carole Sullivan recently published her luscious cookbook, “Gatherings.” She knows how to pack a lunch for a day on the Yellowstone, with the right amount of greens, chicken, creamy blue cheese, and a rich peanut butter cookie to bring out the kid in you.

Stephan and Scotty visited me a few years back, at which time we also went fly-fishing. Stephan lamented, “Why aren’t we eating them!” He is, after all, a chef known for his Texas rib-eye, mouth watering brisket, and his full ceviche bar. He likes protein. The way I figured it, a day of fishing is best followed with a night of sushi. Monday night, slightly sun burnt and full of fishing tales, we sided up to the sushi bar at Montana Fish Company in downtown Bozeman bar for a private affair. Seven of us were fed, course-after-course, by Chef Paul, who took this opportunity to showcase his talent and skills, special ordering in exotic fish and the choicest oysters. His Hamachi Ribs stole the show, but the albacore was a very close second. Stephan and Katherine, having toured Asia scouting restaurant concepts and recipes, declared Chef Paul’s to be as good as any sushi they’ve ever tasted. One meal down, with a Big Success. I was feeling good. And satiated.

Bill Baskin surprises Stephan Pyles, Sally Uhlmann, Katherin Clapner for dinner in Bozeman, Montana

Night Two began at my home in the early afternoon. As we polished off a lunch of grilled cheese and prosciutto paninis and fresh fruit, Bill Baskin walked in the back door. Stephan jumped up, his face registering ultimate surprise. It had been too long since they’d last seen each other. Bill, who now owns the catering company Westslope Culinary, and was a force behind the food concept and opening of Open Range in Bozeman, spent time as Executive Chef at Stephan’s namesake Dallas restaurant, Stephan Pyles. Stephan is quick to point out, “Bill is the most exceptional of chefs. Inventive. Talented.” Bill’s credentials are beyond impressive, including a stint at Fat Duck in London. Each bite of his food makes your mouth perk up and your toes curl. It’s that good. Bill’s down-hominess and gentle demeanor, reverence for fresh and local ingredients, and sheer talent framed an afternoon in which there weren’t too many cooks in the kitchen, even with everyone jumping in. Scotty and I were content to wash the never-ending stream of pots and pans. Professional don’t care how many bowls they dirty.

This was family reunion time, and Bill arrived prepared, pulling a large ice chest on wheels packed with choice ingredients. Bill and I had plotted the meal the previous week, with Bill taking the lead and ordering special items from his favorite purveyors. The star was hazelnut fed organic pork, served three ways: savory homemade sausage meatballs, the jowl slow smoked then ultra thin-sliced, and the true diva—a brined and bone-in loin roast with fennel seeds and herbs, served with sides of Verjus pickled Flathead cherries, pickled beets, and a rhubarb mustard. We all forged in my vast vegetable and herb garden, gathering everything ripe other than the collard greens. I guess in Texas you quickly tire of them. Our feast included open-fire blistered baby carrots, fresh peas with spring onions, grilled scallions, roasted assorted mushrooms, and numerous side dishes. Katherine whipped up an olive oil cake with fresh peaches to conclude our celebratory meal. We dined outdoors with a sliver moon, fire-pit, shooting stars, and excellent wine. Life doesn’t get much better.

My favorite meal is the one I am currently eating, insured by the fact that I seek the finest food, whether it is a cheese omelette or an exotic meal at Saffron Table, here in Bozeman. I love to spend time in chefs’ restaurant kitchens, to visit Farmers’ Markets, scour cookbooks and food magazines, and experiment in my own kitchen. For six years I was the food editor for Kansas City Magazine, and appeared bi-monthly on a food critics’ talk show on NPR. I’ve judged BBQ competitions and served as a sous chef at major food events. I take it all seriously, like anyone with a true passion. I also know when to yield my kitchen to those more experienced. Which is why our final dinner found Stephan and Katherine at the helm, raiding my plentiful pantry and garden, creating a first course pea soup extraordinary, garnished with smoked trout, a horseradish crème, minced cucumber and apples with dill, and a pea broth so silky and green it looked other worldly and tasted of complexity combined with simplicity. Katherine utilized the leftover Blackbird Kitchen artisanal bread with a Panzanella Salad, slightly toasting the bread cubes then mixing them with juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, a variety of greens, and fresh herbs. The dressing was vibrant and unifying.

Steve and Janis Barrett, both superb Bozeman home chefs, joined us for this final dinner, once again and gratefully served outdoors in the daylily-blooming gardens. My main contribution to the meal was bringing chicken thighs, grilling them over live hickory wood and basting them with a honey/wine poached fresh apricot and chipotle BBQ sauce. When Stephan proclaimed in his Texas-Southern accent, “Why, this is quite good,” I felt like a school kid finally making the grade. For dessert, Katherine created a parfait utilizing the remainder of the olive oil cake, a rich lemon curd, and just-harvested raspberries. Heavenly.

Katherine & Sally

The farewell on Thursday was poignant, with none of us wishing the celebrations, hiking, and feasting to end. In many ways, we were just getting started. I drove home from the airport and proceeded to make pizzas (I prepared the dough the night before), wood-fired by Dearest, simple in every respect other than prep and execution. I included Stephan’s “favorite” pizza—mascarpone, prosciutto, and figs, drizzled at the end with chili infused honey. It was a memorable meal, as I hope all meals to be. Of course we had more out-of-town guests that night. It is, after-all, summer in Bozeman.