There are certain destinations that have topped the culinary bucket lists of countless travelers for decades. Perhaps somewhat cliché, that list includes Tokyo for the finest sushi, Paris for the most buttery croissants, Buenos Aires for flawless sirloin steak, New York City for the best pizza, and this list goes on.
Then there’s Montana, known for its delicious…wait, what exactly is Montana known for? Sure Montana may not be top of mind when planning your culinary pilgrimages, but it should be — especially if The Resort at Paws Up has anything to do with it.
While any given day in Montana provides plenty of opportunities to devour some of America’s tastiest and most perfectly prepared beef, bison and elk, as well as endless huckleberry creations like buckwheat pancakes with huckleberry syrup, The Resort at Paws Up’s program of world class culinary events will provide the extra incentive you’ll need to get on a plane to Missoula.
About The Resort at Paws Up
Set on 37,000 acres in southwestern Montana, The Resort at Paws Up is a luxury working cattle ranch perhaps best known for its apartment-sized glamping “tents.” But there’s also the palatial Wilderness Estates (aka big log homes), 10 miles of the legendary Blackfoot River and endless activities, like rappelling, ATVing, horseback riding, fly fishing and sport clay shooting. Essentially, it’s the incarnation of your childhood wild west imaginings, except with king-sized beds, spa treatments and champagne.
Montana Master Chefs
While The Resort at Paws Up’s kitchen is usually under the command of the talented and creative Chef Ben Jones (formerly of The Peninsula Chicago), there is one weekend a year where a new crop of America’s best chefs take the reins — and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.
For Montana Master Chefs, held every year at the end of September, the resort flies in select contestants who have competed on the show Top Chef, to cook for and entertain guests. This year, top chefs included Kelly Liken, Brooke Willamson, Elizabeth Binder and Ariane Duarte, who split into pairs and created incredible three course dinners on the first two nights of the program (Thursday and Friday). Each course was paired with carefully selected wine which was presented by the winemakers themselves. The weekend also included a feast of a lunch at Chuck Wagon, an outdoor dining area set along the Blackfoot River which featured lamb shanks cooked over a campfire, bison chili, cornbread, grilled vegetables and so much more.
But the centerpiece of the Montana Master Chefs weekend was the Top Chef-style cook-off competition which pitted three of the chefs (this year’s contenders were Kelly Liken, Brooke Willamson, Elizabeth Binder) against one and other in a battle royal. With a sous chef selected from the audience and a big timer on the wall counting down, chefs endured challenges like having to take shots of whisky (twice), not being able to speak and cooking with one hand.
Each chef prepared an appetizer, entree and dessert and presented it to a panel of three judges, which included me (it was a really good day). One plate from each course was then auctioned off to the highest bidding member of the audience by a professional cattle auctioneer. The owners of the ranch then doubled, and in one case tripled, the winning bids, resulting in over $14,000 being raised for the Missoula Food Bank.
A highlight from the competition: elk being the secret ingredient in the entree round. In all three chefs’ creations, it was prepared perfectly rare and served like a piece of art.
More Culinary Events
Montana Master Grillers – Every year over Memorial Day weekend, Paws Up turns into most American males’ idea of heaven. Chefs specializing in grilling and BBQ cooking, smokologists, brewers, winemakers and distillers descend upon the resort to treat guests to grilled lunches and dinners, craft beer, wine and bourbon. Sign me up.
Oktoberfeast – In between cattle drives and fly fishing, you’ll try your hand at sauerkraut making and charcuterie preparation, drink all the local craft beer you want and chow down on German-inspired dinners.
Upper Crust – Run every October over Columbus Day weekend, guests will spend their days learning to make the perfect pie and baking a variety of delicious cookies under the guidance of expert pastry chefs. Of course, there’ll still be plenty of time to head out on adventures and to pig out on your crusty creations.
Long Table Dinners – These three, one-night events held in June, July and August, bring guests together at a single long (very long) table set in unique, outdoor locations around the ranch. You’ll dine on a meal made of local ingredients and meet the purveyors of the meal’s food and drink at a pre-dinner farmer’s market.
Trevor Morrow is a Los Angeles-based travel writer, blogger, and photographer who specializes in luxury and adventure travel. His work has brought him around the world and his work has been published across the web by outlets like Men’s Health, Outside, Business Insider and more.