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White Buffalo Club

Published in Chef Notes, Jackson Hole News & Guide, January 25, 2012
Chef Will Gahagen
White Buffalo Club / 160 West Gill Avenue / 307-734-4900


Spicy Mussels
Serves 2-4 as an appetizer

¼ c olive oil

1/3 c medium diced pancetta

2 medium sized shallots, small dice

2 cloves garlic, sliced or minced

1-2 small Serrano chiles, depending on spice preference

2 lbs PEI Mussels, cleaned and rinsed

1-2 T unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T parsley and chives, chopped

Thick slices of baguette, for moppage…

In a thick-bottomed saucepan, crisp pancetta on low-medium heat until rendered and crispy.  Discard most of the fat and reserve crispy pancetta. Saute shallots, garlic, Serranos, and pancetta for about a minute until shallots just begin to brown. Add Mussels and stir vigorously. Pour in white wine, and cook on medium-high heat until mussels begin to open fully.  Stir in butter, season with salt and pepper. Add parsley and chives at the very end, after the broth has reduced to about half of the original volume. Once all of the mussels have opened, taste broth for seasoning and adjust. Discard any mussels that have not opened.

While finishing the broth, toast the baguette slices. Serve in a warm bowl, topped with toasted baguette (for mopping up the broth). Enjoy – tweak spices and seasoning as preferred.

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I became curious about the White Buffalo Club this summer. It seemed that every time there was a community charity event, Taste of the Tetons, Palates &Palletes, Relay for Life, the 49er Ball, for Teton Literacy Program and the Red Cross, they were listed as a contributor. Plus they offered a fitness membership 99 days for $99. That sounded intriguing but it was luscious light summer so who needed it?

When I dropped by to inquire, much to my surprise, I found that Will Gahagen is the executive chef. We had met several years ago when I wrote a column about Kevin Humphreys at Gamefish. Gahagen held the fort after the mass exodus to Teton Mountain Lodge. The good news for us is there is plenty of room for all the wonderful chefs as they shift around our culinary chess board.

Chef Will Gahagen is cheerful and upbeat, of pleasant countenence and sparkling eyes. He is as pleasant and welcoming as the White Buffalo Club staff. Perhaps he sets the tone. The facility opened in August of 2008, modeled after a Chicago steakhouse. The quality is prime and the atmosphere is casual and light.

Gahagen was born in my favorite hot bed of liberalism, Berkeley, California. It’s a fabulous place for a foodie. Gahagen didn’t know he was one, it was just part of his life. His mom was a huge influence. She was a partner in the Juice Bar Collective right around the corner from Chez Panisse.  “I remember standing in the kitchen with my mom on a tall stool at this huge machine juicing carrots that came from an enormous walk-in,” Gahagen shared. “When I returned there much later it was this tiny little place.” Such is the impact of our stellar experiences of youth. Gahagen’s dad was also a formative influence. He baked breads and made homemade pizzas and fresh pasta theydried on a wooden clothes rack. The family moved to Missoula, Montana in 1991 for his dad to pursue an education degree.

Gahagen spent much time with his mom who became the head chef at the Pine Butte Guest Ranch in Choteau. Her cooking mode adapted to accommodate an entirely different clientele during the next three years. The pair spent time together exploring farms and ranches seeking purveyors for the guest ranch kitchen.

The youthful years in Montana were our chef’s introduction to the great outdoors of the Rocky Mountain West, a lifestyle he relishes to this day. Gahagen’s high school years were tempered by his mom’s battle against breast cancer. Still not knowing it was his career, Gahagen chose “Breakfast Cooking” as his high school senior project. He created weekly feasts for friends and family and documented them as his thesis.

With no clear direction after graduation he was visiting the Bay area and a friend, Sharon Smith, who was also a food writer. She suggested a tour of the California Culinary Institute. He enrolled immediately after and spent the next year completing the le Cordon Bleu style instruction.

For his 3 month externship after graduating, he interviewed with chef Kevin Humphreys at the Snake River Lodge and Spa. Gahagen was itching to get out of the city and back to the mountains.

For the next three and a half years Humphreys served as his mentor. “I love him. He taught me so much, not of the school type of learning but what was practical in my work situation. I had a whole lot of fun and learned at the same time.” The North Grille and Rich Billingham drew Gahagen the next summer. The White Buffalo Club’s previous chef brought him on as sous chef that November. Gahagen has been at the helm since the autumn of 2009.

It is a wonderful dining experience or a place for a cocktail and small plates. It’s a small hotel with an established membership. It’s intimate and casual. Last June they opened the doors for the public to experience the scene.

Our evening started with a viewing of an impressive wine list and the selection of a modest, yet delicious house wine. The seared scallops were perfection, served atop a crispy grit cake with arugula, grape tomatoes, bacon and a citrus beurre blanc as counterpoint. The savory mussels were our next delight. This is the recipe shared for everyone’s enjoyment, and believe me, you will. The serrano pepper kick is the perfect manner to augment the flavors. Ahi tacos are a delightful first course offering. I envisioned stopping by for a refreshing beveerage and the Yuzu marinated tuna in crispy shells with Napa slaw, guacamole and mango chutney at some or many future dates.

A daily soup of Thai style coconut milk with seafood, onions, peppers and chiles featured a delightfully flavorful light broth. We refreshed our palates enjoying the salad of golden beet, arugula, julienned crisp apples, toasted walnuts and Amaltheia goat cheese before we dived into a gorgeously tender and rare ribeye steak. Sometimes in the winter my body craves protein. It hit the spot. Accents such as grilled asparagus, wiltd spinach, boursin whipped potatoes, mac and cheese are served family style.

We strolled out into the winter tempest marvelously satisfied.


The Wort Hotel

Published in Chef Notes, Jackson Hole News & Guide, January 11, 2012
Chef Scott Rutter
The Wort Hotel

The Wort Hotel’s Famous Corn Chowder

¼ lb bacon
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 c fresh corn
1 c white wine
1T minced garlic
½ t dill
½ t thyme
Flour to thicken
2 T chicken soup base or bouillon powder
2 qt water
12 red potatoes quartered and par cooked
¼ to ½ c heavy cream
White pepper and salt to taste

Cook bacon slowly until crisp, drain and crumble.  To bacon pan, add crumbled bacon, veggies, wine, garlic, dill, thyme, and cook until tender.  Add flour and cook while stirring well. Do not brown.  Add chicken base and water and bring to a boil.  Add potatoes and cook until tender.  Add heavy cream until desired consistency.  Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

Dish hot chowder into individual oven-safe crocks, add croutons and top with cheddar slices and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Place in oven or under a broiler to melt and brown cheese.

Chowder can be made a day or two in advance and kept refrigerated. Omit the cream, then add to soup as you re-heat.

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For some reason it’s too easy to overlook the Wort. We live in this town. We take it for granted. The Wort Hotel is a treasure of hospitality. It took me  almost forever to get there even after I heard and read that a stellar new executive chef arrived last summer.

Our dinner one recent evening was dazzling. Chef Scott Rutter produces bold cuisine carefully prepared and beautifully presented. This is a man who takes his work seriously and yet has an affable way about him.

Rutter was brought up in State College, Pennsylvania where his father was a professor. He tells his story with a rapid-paced enthusiasm that left me unsure if I can piece it together with any accuracy. There’s an excitement about Rutter that is infectious.

Working hard seems part of Rutter’s make up. As part of the ski patrol at the local Tussey Mountain on weekends, he became captain during his teen years. Besides school and nine years working at Duffy’s Tavern there, he did catering at the ski mountain.

Education created an about turn in his life. He was accepted at the architectural school at the university, then changed directions. Rutter seems  quite proud that his work ethic, earned scholarships and work study program coupled with his father’s position on faculty allowed him to complete his college education in three and a half years for $873.

Rutter’s early classical training sounds like torture with hours and months of precision knife work and repetitive drills, torment from the Old School Chefs, and yet it pushed his skill levels to the peak. The love of skiing and mountains drew him to Vail’s 5 diamond, 5 star Cascade Resort & Spa for the winter of 1999 when the World Championships were held there.

His mentor chef, Jesse Llapitan, worked with his crew to create Chaps, a highly successful concept restaurant built around the appetites of skiiers after a hard day’s exercise.

It was Llapitan who inspired Rutter to return to Colorado Mountain College to acquire credentials in nutrition and as a teacher. “Nutrition school is where my integrity of myself as a chef changed,” Rutter shared. He is both a Certified Executive Chef and Certified Culinary Educator in the American Culinary Federation.

Returning to his family’s favorite vacation spot on the Carolina coast, Rutter took on the mission of executive chef at The Cypress Club Hilton Head Plantation. The 1800 member residential club caters to an elite clientele of specialized needs and the elderly. He founded a program of intricately detailed work and deep caring. The work was both inspiring and heartbreaking, as all end of live care can be. The chef departed from his beloved crew and their Chapel on the Hill when a change of ownership brought about abrupt changes he found disrespectful to the members.

In 2006 Rutter almost came to JH Mountain Resort, but then the St. Regis Resort in Aspen beckoned him. While putting on a $12,000 a plate celebrity benefit there he made the connections that led to being a host, assistant producer, and consultant on Top Chef.

Rutter has worked with Gail Simmons of Food & Wine Magazine, famed chefs Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Todd English. He’s won multiple competitions in the National Ice Carving Association including making an ice bar in Squaw Valley from 60,348 pound blocks of ice.

Our server, Ben, who has been at the Silver Dollar Grill for a couple years shared that since Rutter’s arrival diners are happier, return frequently and tips are better. That speaks for itself.

Our experience with what Rutter describes as mountain eclectic cuisine was a delightful time. We started our repast with two starters. The seared wasabi encrusted ahi was accompanied by ponzu sauce and a mango relish. Yum! The grilled Bruschetta with buffalo mozzarella was topped with tomato basil tapenade, fig balsamic, basil oil and spiral cut golden beets. The texture was tantalizing and the taste was, indeed, bold. It made my favorite cousin sit up and take notice. The house bread is a heady loaf with whole garlic cloves baked into the dough.

Next we were treated to the chef’s award-winning smoked pheasant soup with firecracker roasted corn, pumpkin seed infused oil and sweet potato hay. We shared the remains the next day and once again marveled at the complexity of delicious rich flavors, plus textures both crunchy and smooth. Add a salad and it would easily serve as a meal.

To our delight we sampled several entrees. Each aspect of the plates was cooked to perfection. The delicate sea bass was served with coconut infused rice and pea pods. Marinated cedar plank salmon was accompanied by a molasses smoked au jus, wild rice and green beans.

We thoroughly enjoyed the basil encrusted Rocky Mountain lamb with fragrant mint laden jelly and couscous. We had much discussion about the merits of the rosemary garlic rubbed buffalo filet with balsamic compound butter and Yukon Gold whipped potatoes versus the Angus beef filet with gorgonzola sage compound butter, red wine demi-glace and Peruvian purple mashed potatoes. They were both superlative. It may be the compelling taste mix of blue cheese and red meat that puts the beef over the top.

Dessert is so problematic – delightful and never necessary. The new mixed berry cobbler was satisfying. The presentation of the S’mores platter with the little flaming cast iron pot burning on our table like a camp fire was a total treat. I melted one and took it home to my mom. I think my cousin ate three. We wished her kids were with us.


Betty Rock Pizza Rocks

Published in Chef Notes, Jackson Hole News & Guide, September 21, 2011
Shared by Chef /Owner Marc Hirschfield
Betty Rock Café

Perfect Pizza Sauce – Betty Rock Café
A scaled version of pizza sauce at Betty Rock.

¼ c olive oil

2  large yellow onions, sliced thinly

8  cloves garlic

28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, San Marzano or organic

6 oz can tomato paste

2 t dried basil

2 t dried oregano

1 t black pepper

2 t salt, or to taste

½ t crushed red pepper flakes

In a medium saucepan add olive oil, onions, one teaspoon of salt and garlic that has been smashed in a garlic press. Cook over low to moderate heat for approximately 30 minutes. Cook this mixture down until the onions have a sweet salty garlic flavor. Be careful not to let the pan burn — a little trick can be to add the liquid from the can of whole tomatoes. Once the mixture is where you like it add herbs and whole tomatoes, cook this down another twenty to thirty minutes (if you have the time – longer tends to be better!) Add tomato paste plus a can of water from the empty tomato paste can.  Bring everything up to heat and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Check for salt and spice (if you like a little extra kick this is a good time to add it).

With your immersion blender mix sauce until it is smooth. The color of this sauce will be a slightly orange red and will taste super delicious. If you are pureeing in a regular blender make sure you pull out the plastic spout in the lid (this will help the steam escape). You’ll need to cover the hole with a kitchen towel and go slow to avoid disaster.   If you have any questions stop by the kitchen of the Betty Rock and ask for Marc or Kyle.

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A couple weeks ago a pal of mine invited me to join her birthday celebration. She’s so smart at making life fun and easy. “Join us for pizza at Betty Rock, then we’ll all go see the Punch Brothers at the Center for the Arts,” read the email invite. It was a fun night.

It’s deja vu all over again, again, again. Betty Rock is a couple hundred yards from my house. Apparently they’ve been making pizzas for a year. Man, they make good pies! How could it take me so long to catch on? Is that the important part or is it that I know now? Thursdays it’s all you can eat pizza for $11.

Marc Hirschfield grew up in Scarsdale. He credits the local pizza joints there as the influence on his style of pizza with thin crust that is crisp and yet a little chewy.

Hirschfield moved to Los Angeles for his high school years and back east to Middlebury, Vermont for his college years. He met his wife, Anise Morrow in San Francisco just after her college years at Wellesley. They spent time in LA around 1994 the Soccer World Cup. Hirschfield did big event planning such as a kids’ soccer program for thousands of participants. Anise had a vision to open a bagel place in Santa Monica.

When they moved here in 1995, as there was a thriving bagel business, their vision transformed into the original Betty Rock Café, which opened that year. They served breakfasts and lunches of tasty fresh foods, good salads and soups, sandwiches and wraps. Their scones were really good as were all the baked goods. The original scene had an appealing casual, intimate tribal look about it.

In 2001, Hirschfield had an active role in and became an investor in the Rendezvous Bistro, a fine dining restaurant. Their two sons, Simon and Theo, were born, and life was more about family in those years. They sold the cafe in 2003.

As time unfolded, daughter Lucana was born. The kids grew. Hirschfield backed away from his time commitment to the Bistro. Betty Rock closed and the space went through a couple incarnations. It sat empty. Driving by the empty location one day, they knew it was time.

In 2009, Betty Rock was open and back in the swing of things. A few changes have helped streamline the operation. They open at 10:30 and serve through lunch and dinner hours until 9 every day except Sunday. Many employees returned and even more happy local customers. Hirschfield has not been trained in cooking, but has done tons of it and has a knack of finessing ingredients to the right taste. Morrow, who runs the business side, therefore escaping oven burns on her arms, also has a keen ability to scrutinize tastes until a recipe just right.

There must be a mention of the continuum of soccer in this picture. Hirschfield played the game from childhood through college and then some semi-pro. Since moving here he has been instrumental in the growth of the sport in our valley. He was a player on the original Jackson men’s team that played other communities throughout the Northern Rocky Mountain States. He was the first coach of the high school girls team. With Joe Rice he helped develop the youth soccer league. They did fund raising to create the two synthetic turf fields, an key component in our climate as they may be plowed of snow in March and are ready for play. Now there are 300 plus kids involved each year. There is a men’s league with 25 teams that plays on Sunday afternoons. He’s says it’s not an old man’s game but all his kids play now.

Onto the pizzas. My initial taste was a caramelized onion, apple, prosciutto pie with white sauce. The combo sparkled in my mouth. The Dan is one of the most popular pies with sausage, mushroom, caramelized onion, basil and truffle oil. Picture it! The Patrick has spicy sausage, tomato, fresh garlic and basil. They offer several vegetarian choices. They utilize Udi’s, from Colorado, gluten free crust and employ gloves and a flour free (as far as that is possible) regimen to deliver a unique product for those allergic. The pepperoni is hand sliced and the best quality I’ve experienced.

We had some delightfully crisp fresh salads with pizzas and a reasonably priced and lovely bottle of wine the other night. The house made dressings  and freshness of the ingredients highlighted our meal. The service is attentive, efficient and friendly.

If you miss Bru’s column in the off season, check out her website blog that will begin to reflect her experiences with her new roommates, her 94 year old mom and her mom’s cat, Carmelo Anthony. Wish them safe travels.