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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.


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.


Saigon Café in Driggs

Published in Chef Notes, Jackson Hole News & Guide, September 7, 2011
Shared by Chef Joseph Byers
Saigon Café

260 N. Main Street, Driggs, Idaho
Serving lunch M-F and dinner M-Sat


Chicken Skewers with Sweet Chili Glaze

Makes about 20 skewers

2   pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2   tablespoons fish sauce

2   tablespoons soy sauce

2   tablespoons light olive oil

2   tablespoons honey

3   teaspoons sesame oil

3   cloves garlic, minced

2   green onions, chopped

1   teaspoon fresh ground pepper

½  teaspoon salt

20 bamboo skewers

½  cup Asian sweet chili sauce (mix with 1 tablespoon peanut butter– optional)


Cut meat in strips about ½ inch thick by 1 ½ inch wide. Combine all ingredients, except the sweet chili sauce, in a bowl. Add chicken and mix well. Refrigerate for one hour. Meanwhile, soak the bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes or more. Remove meat from refrigerator and put on skewers. Grill skewers on the barbeque over medium-high until done.

After remove from the grill, brush with Asian sweet chili sauce and serve.

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A quiet little surprise has appeared behind the Potato Curtain. It’s the Saigon Cafe. Who would ever have guessed that a Vietnamese Grill serving delicious food would one day open in Driggs, Idaho?

We experienced some exciting tastes and had a lovely evening there. We learned from our friendly conversation with Joseph Byers, the owner and executive chef and his wife, Crystal, who runs the front of the house. They opened July 2 with enough business that Byers sought help. Luckily for them they found Don Nguyen, a Vietnamese native and trained chef in Salt Lake City. He has moved to Driggs where he cooks side by side with Byers.

Byers cooking inspiration was his mother’s Saturday dinners for the family in Lewistown, Montana where he was born. The family moved to Southern California when he was young. Citing his Italian aunt’s influence on his tastes,  he started his kitchen experience as a teen at Godfather’s and La Cucina Italian Restaurants in Costa Mesa.

Amid diverse cultures and cuisines Byers discovered and pursued his interest in Italian, American and Vietmanese. With its layered influences of both French and Chinese the complexity of Vietnamese drew him to study for twenty-five years until he has become fluent in speaking and writing the language. He worked in a friend’s Cafe Arnold in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.

Upon his return to the United States in 2006, Byers moved to Jackson. He has cooked at Triangle X, Lost Creek Ranch and 3 Creek Ranch. It was while working at the Triangle X that he met his beloved wife Crystal. The sheriff officiated at their wedding exactly one year later. Now they have a daughter, Cheyenne and a son Westley.

Byers creativity has earned him an award in the 2008 Jackson Hole Chili Cookoff with key ingredients of buffalo meat, fire roasted peppers, fish sauce and Snake River Lager. Last year he won the Grill Master Beef Challenge in Driggs flavoring with oyster sauce and Greek yogurt.

Even though our chef has longed to open his own his own place, he gives much credit to his wife. “Crystal pushed me into taking the leap to open the restaurant,” Byers shared. “I tend to wait until the stars are aligned just right, and everything is perfect before doing something. I had been working on the idea and business plan for a year or so. Crystal came home one day after telling some friends about our idea of starting a small Vietnamese restaurant in Teton Valley, Idaho. She said, ‘We are going to open it. This is one of your dreams, so let’s just do it.’ ”

Ravenous upon arrival, we were offered some delicious appetizers to regain balance. The tender spring rolls of rice paper were filled with grilled chicken and shrimp plus greens, cucumber, cilantro, mint, carrots and rice noodles accompanied by a hoisin peanut dipping sauce. Delicately golden egg rolls with pork, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms, vegetables and mung bean noodles came with a sweet chili lime dipping sauce. We devoured them all in short order. The chicken wings were also quite delectable enhanced with roasted garlic in chili sauce. We didn’t get to the pot stickers, but there will be a next time.

Moving on to entrees we honored our vegetarian guest with a huge bowl of Pho, the popular broth dish rapidly gaining popularity in our country. Sometimes it contains beef and usually the broth is seasoned with roasted onion, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and smoked cardamom. Sides to add include basil, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, hoisin and Sriracha sauces. It is a satisfying deep mix of flavors.

The menu is small, which is appropriate for a tiny restaurant in its infant stages. Don’t do many things, do few things very well. This allowed the four of us to sample everything but the banh mi baguette sandwich that is served at lunch. We like leftovers and there were plenty. Each sandwich is served with mushroom onion pate, a choice of grilled chicken, lemongrass pork or grilled ratatouille of fire roasted squashes and tomatoes, topped off with cucumber, daikon, cilantro and jalapenos.

There is something inadequate in my vocabulary to describe in all of these dishes the complexity and pungent subtlety of the five elements of flavors. Each is a unique blend of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty. All are vibrant. I’ll tell you about the dishes, but you better go try them for yourselves.

The chicken, shrimp and cabbage salad comes with masses of crispy vegetables, honey lime chili vinaigrette, topped with roasted peanuts and fried shallots. The rice vermicelli salad has grilled chicken, lemongrass pork or tiger shrimp over rice noodles. As with the others, mounds of fresh vegetables and herbs augment the experience. I am now a big fan of lemongrass pork. Beef stew with baguette from 460° bakery brings out the French side of the cuisine. It is savory and wonderful.

Broken rice comes with a cup of pho. The meat choices already mentioned plus a slice of Vietnamese meatloaf, unusual and pleasing, accompany the broken rice. Great tastes. A tart green papaya salad samples a recipe from across the border with Laos made using a mortar and pestle to crush garlic, palm sugar, chiles, and grape tomatoes. Lime, shredded papaya, crab paste, fish sauce and ground dried shrimp complete the blend. It comes with grilled chicken and sticky rice.

As they await a liquor license you are welcome to bring your own refreshing beverages. They serve Jasmine tea, traditional iced coffees and sodas. Go visit and enjoy the nourishing feeling it gives you.