Food For Thought

BY Jody Dahl | Wed 12 May, 2010

English girl, Western dreams

There I was, wandering through town the other day just minding my own business, when suddenly, with a gust of wind, I was taken from drizzly old London right back to the wide open plains of Montana. A force-5 tornado, you might wonder? Thankfully not, however it was a strong enough gust to waft the light scent of barbecued steak from a nearby restaurant window. As soon as it hit my nostrils, I closed my eyes and I could have been right back in the US, sitting on the terrace of the ranch house while my juicy fillet steak cooked away on the barbecue. Even above the sound of beeping horns from the busy traffic, I could swear I heard the faint whinny of a horse...

It’s strange how food can evoke such powerful memories, especially when you least expect it. And it made me realise that food is not only an indulgence in its own right, but that it can also enhance an experience like nothing else. Says Kerry Lambert, supervising producer for The Food Network: “A vacation without quality food and wine is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly... it's just not as sweet! No travel experience is complete without cuisine that encapsulates the flavors of the locale itself.  With Top50 Ranches, you not only get a true-life ranch experience, you also get meals that offer a delectable taste of Americana – from freshly caught local fish to juicy dry-aged steaks paired exquisitely with local wines. A great way to savor the day.” And she’s right. Yes, any ranch getaway would make me happy. But a Western adventure with great food to boot? Now that is my idea of heaven...

And heaven I was in at Runamuk Guest Ranch in Montana. To appear on the Food Network you have to be pretty special, but Runamuk is just that. Says Kerry Lambert, supervising producer for The Food Network's ‘Secret Life of...’ show: "I have travelled to some of the finest resorts and restaurants in the world, and Jody's skill in the kitchen rivals some of the best-trained chefs.” I second that. Top-quality ingredients including seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables from the garden and ranch-raised beef all make for a great reason to get off the back of a horse.

But not everyone’s the same. Some prefer fine dining, some have a special diet, some like a healthy take on their cuisine and some just like good, hearty home-cooked food –  and lots of it! For those falling into the latter category, the seven course dinner evening offered at Red Horse Mountain should go down a treat. And with wines chosen by the chef to complement each course, this is also one for the wine buffs out there.

But with so much great wine on offer, you’re going to need a good coffee the next morning. As for breakfast, well when you have a day in the saddle to prepare for (or a hangover to nurse), you know you can rely on ranch fare! Three Bars Ranch, provides scenic sunrise breakfast cookouts, perfect for clearing the head and blowing away the cobwebs. And a glass of water from Box R’s ice cold artesian spring high up on the mountain is sure to provide the ultimate hangover cure.

Fresh air aside, there’s nothing like eating outdoors to get you in touch with your inner caveman – go to Lone Mountain Guest Ranch in the winter months and you can take an old fashioned sleigh ride dinner, with festive music to boot!

Then there’s Triple Creek Ranch, which offers a more contemporary and eclectic dining experience. Its menu ranges from French to South Western, West Indian to Central American plus other international influences. Tasting menus will appeal to those food connoisseurs out there, as will the Chef's Table, which gives a unique insight into the kitchen.

Los Petreros in Argentina is one to check out if you like your food a little on the exotic side. Note to self: arrive on an empty stomach!

For me though, when it comes to the crunch you just can’t beat a bit of home cooking. One thing that you should know is that North America harvests some of the most sought-after fruits in the UK. Huckleberries – what we Brits refer to as Bilberries – are like golddust over here. So knowing McGinnis Meadows serves lashings of Montana's finest huckleberries ‘handpicked from our secret huckleberry patch’ makes me want to up sticks and emigrate to Big Sky Country!

I admit to being a bit green-fingered and for me, tending to my modest vegetable garden is one of life’s small pleasures. So I’m pleased to find so many ranches sourcing the ingredients for their cuisine right in their back yards. You have amazing Free Rein who boasts locally-sourced produce for tasteful home-cooked meals.

If you’re looking for a healthier take on ranch dining then head to Tod Mountain Ranch who boasts ‘traditional ranch fare with a gourmet twist’ and combines the healthy with the hearty, so is one for foodies and health gurus alike. The Ranch at Rock Creek serves food reflecting its pure surroundings – including prime organic beef, free-range chicken, organic eggs, fresh fish, and seasonal local fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs. And although Latigo Ranch promises ample portions for those who like second - and even third! - helpings, it’s also the place to go if you’ve a special dietary need: vegetarian, kosher, low carb, low fat, allergy specific – you name it, they’ll cook it. Like something enough and you can even head to Latigo’s website, where it posts many of its recipes – a godsend if, like me, you’re forever trying to recreate the sumptuous meals you’ve sampled on vacation. I recall one particularly disastrous occasion where I attempted to recreate Indian tacos. Let’s just say I should have left it to the professionals...

One thing I’ve learnt is that when it comes to good ranch cuisine, it doesn’t matter whether it’s fine dining, outdoor cooking or hearty home-cooked fare. Whatever it is, it’s going to be good and the memories of it are going to stay with you. If ever I’m at work, staring blankly into my computer screen and waiting for the clock to tick to 5pm, I only have to dip into my vacation diary and cast my eye over scrawlings about home-reared fillet steak, chocolate brownies and avocado soup, then I’m right back on the ranch – and no volcanic ash cloud can stop me.

´Til next time!

Mel, Horse & Rider; PONY magazines, UK

Mel Rutherford worked as News Editor for Horse &  Rider Magazine in the UK before more recently taking on the role of Website Editor for Horse & Rider and PONY Magazines.


Fine Dining at The Ranch at Rock Creek

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