Montana produces an abundance of food but the journey from pasture to plate faces challenges, especially for restaurants.
The menu at Montana Ale Works in Bozeman points out the dishes made with local ingredients.
Aaron Brittingham, executive sous chef at Montana Ale Works, says that includes beef.
“We get all of our burgers through Montana Wagyu Cattle Company,” he says.
Wagyu is a specialty breed of cattle. The meat commands a high price and is often referred to as Kobe.
Brittingham says the restaurant worked with the Gallatin Valley rancher to create the Montana Ale Works ground beef program. The 50% wagyu-50% angus blend that is a signature dish on their menu.
Brittingham says while the restaurant buys from local producers as much as possible, it’s still a challenge to meet the demands.
“We still have to get some product from national purveyors,” he says. “We’re a very large restaurant and there isn’t quite enough in Bozeman to supply us everything that we need.”
The same is true for Executive chef Amy Smith of The Grand Hotel in Big Timber. She relishes being in the middle of cattle country where her customers regularly order tenderloin and New York steaks.
Sitting down with a glass of red wine in the lobby of the Grand after a long day in the kitchen, Smith says she will buy beef from local ranchers for special occasions.
“And people definitely do appreciate that,” Smith says. “But on the menu I want to be able to have consistent product so that when you come here in the middle of winter or in the middle of the summer and you’ll pretty much be able to get the same product and it’s a challenge.”
When asked, Smith says ranchers have come in to The Grand and asked her if they would serve their beef.
“I don’t want to disappoint anybody,” she says. “I just tell them what we have. What we need. And sometimes we’ll go through 15 tenderloins a week. That’s 8 cows worth of tenderloins and nobody can produce that much.”
Smith sees her supports for local ranchers in a more global fashion by selling beef in the restaurant.
“The more beef people eat, the more beef people have to produce and it will keep it affordable for people to be able to eat it instead of a once a month treat,” Smith says.
And the fact that beef born and raised on the nearby American Fork ranch in Two Dot may not be in Smith’s kitchen also isn’t a concern to ranch co-manager Jed Evjene. He also has a global view.
“We’re out here producing a safe product for our consumers to eat around the world. I’m not just going to say in the United States. We’re global,” Evjene says. “And anything that’s produced out here I’m very damn proud of and feel very comfortable and every consumer in the world should feel comfortable.”
Evjene hosted about 40 people, mostly ranchers, at the American Fork Ranch last week. The ranch won the 2015 Montana and Region 5 Environmental Stewardship Award.