By Joshua Bousel
Holidays like Memorial Day are my time to shine—you can normally find me grill-side serving my favorites from the arsenal. So there was a very slight hesitation when considering to relinquish this annual tradition and accept an invitation from our friends at the Double R Ranch (who provided most of the meats for the event) to attend the first Montana Master Grillers event at The Resort at Paws Up, but being stuffed with grilled goodies from top chefs instead of sweating over a hot fire was too good to pass up.
Nestled in a valley surrounded by 360 degrees of mountains in Greenough, Montana—about 40 minutes east of Missoula—The Resort at Paws Up offered sprawling scenery and luxurious cabins, as well as an attentive, friendly staff who all created the communal environment that’s essential to any cook-out. Of course, you need great food as well, and that was delivered and then some.
The premise of the event—modeled after Paws Up’s already established Montana Master Chefs event—was to invite a set of chefs, winemakers, and brewers to the resort and build a weekend that alternates between massive meals and outdoor activities like horseback riding, rafting, and mountain biking to help rebuild that appetite.
There were five chefs cooking in this inaugural year: Tiffani Faison from Top Chef Season 1 and owner of Sweet Cheeks Q in Boston, Edward Lee from Top Chef season 9 and 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Frank Ostini from the Hitching Post II in Buellton, CA, Giuseppe Tentori from Boka and GT Fish & Oyster in Chicago, and Paws Up resident chef Adam Cooke.
They may not be the first names you associate with grilling, but save for one demo on how to break down an entire prime rib and a fun burger cook-off that teamed up guests with the chefs, the event was more about the meals rather than the grilling skills. As the weekend progressed, each lunch and dinner seemed to outdo the next, and that’s saying a lot because it started out strong.
The chefs all used the grill to add a little smokiness or great sear to complex dishes. Take, for example, chef Lee’s grilled lamb hearts, whose sear gave the thinly sliced hearts a nice crust against a tender texture, but it was the pairing of them with crunchy fried black-eyed peas, creamy ricotta, and a tangy grapefruit vinaigrette that formed contrasting textures and flavors.
Some other highlights included chef Faison’s grilled peaches with farro that was an unexpectedly addictive sweet and savory side, Chef Tentori’s masterfully seasoned and grilled Kobe strip loin, and Chef Ostini’s Santa Maria-style ribeye roast that had a juicy medium-rare interior and excellent crust that held a whisper of smoke.
For a lover of the outdoors and grilling, and a dude who desperately needed a break from his 9-to-5, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend last weekend. The experience allowed me to throw off the shackles of my conceptions of grilling and barbecue and relish in the creativity and quality of the food along with the relaxed atmosphere of the resort.