Last Saturday, Granite County children participated in a celebration of gourmet Western food and global savoir-faire. They were part of France’s fourth annual “Fête de la Gastronomie” (Gastronomy Festival) from the stove-side comfort of The Ranch at Rock Creek’s Blue Canteen. As a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association, we joined other international properties in celebrating locally sourced cuisine.
Eleven local children and 4-H members attended a lesson focused on Western food staples, history and cooking techniques that are used in The Ranch’s kitchens every day. Executive Chef Josh Drage explained that children all over the world were celebrating locally sourced food in a similar way. In the Dominican Republic, Chef Hernan Griccini taught young gourmands to make his famous “Shrimp de Sánchez” at the Eden Roc at Cap Cana. Meanwhile, Chef Davy Tissot brought children to the Lyon market and followed up with a lesson on cooking perfect Parmesan risotto “al dente” at the Villa Florentine.
The 2014 theme was “A Passion for Savoir-Faire!” The aim was to encourage their impressive bank of professional chefs to share their expertise with the community, specifically its youngest citizens. The Ranch appreciates the Relais & Châteaux approach to hospitality, generosity and the art of living, so we couldn’t have been more delighted to take up the cause and join in the celebration.
As the only event celebrating Western food, Chef Drage felt it was important to emphasize what “farm-to-table” means to Granite County kids. Chef Drage began cooking when he was 12, in his family’s cabin outside of Anchorage, Alaska. With a focus on local producers offering organic and sustainable meats and produce, Chef Drage continues to push the envelope with Western food, using bold flavors and healthy ingredients to define Ranch cuisine.
The group met in the Blue Canteen, a kitchen and dining area heated by a wood stove, canopied with natural light through canvas and wooden beams, and filled with peacock blue Fiestaware and warm red accents. They gathered around the long table to talk about the Western food found in the chef’s pantry.
Chef Drage started by explaining that Montana’s agricultural roots are extremely important to his ability to use 90 percent locally sourced ingredients. Montana children have a link to the land that is uncommon with their city peers.
The kids discussed how they get food from the land. These children often grow up raising local chickens and selling the eggs for spending money. Their families ranch and hunt for meat and grow vegetables in backyard gardens. They are born into the locavore way of life.
This September’s bounty included red and green tomatoes, peppers, apples, onions, garlic, squash, beets, red and green cabbage and leeks. Chef Drage had also gathered an assortment of products from local purveyors, such as cheese from Flathead Lake Cheese Company, honey from Kate’s Mercantile, grass-fed, grass-finished beef from Mannix Ranch and rolls from Wheat Montana.
Despite a close connection to the land, some raw vegetables were daunting to the young kids. Thanks to the good rapport between Chef Drage and the kids, it wasn’t long before they agreed to try ingredients that they had never before seen or cooked.
The kids munched on cut carrots and our special Ranch dressing as they discussed the preparation of a warm shredded beef sandwich with honey barbeque sauce and rolls. They learned how local potatoes are made into homemade French fries and prepped the cabbage coleslaw. While the BBQ beef sandwiches were sure to be a favorite, Chef Drage challenged the kids to try kale salad, which they surprisingly loved!
Chef Drage appreciates that he was likely speaking to future local producers of Western food. In fact, the Ranch buys 4-H animals at auction to support budding entrepreneurs. One young businessperson took advantage of his conversation with the Chef to ask if he was interested in purchasing a pig in January.
Afterward, we celebrated two birthdays with a chocolate banana sheet cake and homemade vanilla ice cream. Chef Drage lined the kids up for a jog and headed into the tack room for a tour and some roping lessons with our wranglers. The kids were excited to test their wrangling skills and socialize. They left the Ranch with new friends and full bellies.
In the spirit of Relais & Châteaux, we strive to open a door to the fine art of living well. Saturday’s class helped teach future cooks how to look out that door and see a bounty of local delights.