On a rainy May 16, 2016 morning, Shane Ryan was inside the back of a Sysco truck, securing product. He was digging through stacks of boxes, and lifting and moving packages himself. As executive chef of “Matt’s in the Market” in Seattle, WA, this is not unusual activity, but on this day he is 817 miles away, in Billings, MT. Tonight he is cooking with Executive Chef David Maplethorpe of The Rex Restaurant Bar and Grill for the annual Guest Chef Dinner for the Montana State University Billings Foundation Wine and Food Festival.
Over the years, owner Gene Burgad and Maplethorpe have hosted many chefs including Mark Franz, Bernard Guillas, Kevin Davis, Emily Luchetti, Jason Wilson, and Nick Steen. Their experience exudes an air of calm and confidence. For Maplethorpe, sourcing items for the proposed menus can be challenging. But with many emails and phone communications, for this dinner entitled: From Sound to Sky, a menu was established weeks before.
Ryan hand carried about 150 pounds of ingredients onto the airplane for his trip over. Unfortunately for Ryan, there was no Pike Place Market across the street from the restaurant where he could find almost any ingredient he can would want. With him came sea beans, ramps, pickled green strawberries, and nettle pesto vacuumed packed in bags along with txistorra, bouquerones and sea beans. Though Montana had a reputation for having access to wild game, Ryan personally delivered the smoked elk tongue.
Ryan’s culinary career began as a dishwasher at age 15. His want to have enough money to take a girl out provided incentive for him to earn a few dollars. After attending South Seattle Community College Culinary Arts program, he worked for the guide Gault Millau 1989 “Chef of the Century” Joel Robuchon at The Mansion in Las Vegas. This experience provided professional and ,al growth with Ryan admitting to be “very stressed out” at the job.
Ready for another adventure, he took a position in Thimphu, Bhutan, managing a Western and Thai kitchen at the ultra-luxurious boutique resort Aman Amankora. Then to fulfill his wife, Rebecca’s want to be somewhere with a beach, they relocated to St. Maarten where he was head chef at Sheer. Then the Lakewood native returned home to Seattle to be near roots, with family and with the Pacific Northwest territory brimming with culinary bounty. Here he could fish the waters and forage the land.
In the interim times, he worked at the iconic restaurants in Seattle, such as helping Ethan Stowell open How to Cook a Wolf, and Staple and Fancy. He passed through the kitchens at La Tavolàta and Cafe Campagne. In all ways he came full circle around the world, for Matt’s in the Market was located one block away from Cafe Champagne where he bussed trays while attending culinary school.
At “Matt’s in the Market,” in 2010, Ryan worked with Chester Gerl for two years before Gerl’s departure to New York to work with restauranteur Marc Meyer. In 2012 Ryan became executive chef at Matt’s and has been there ever since.
The Guest Chef dinner overflowed with Ryan’s signature. Some of the highlights included: Shigoku oysters, produced by Taylor Shellfish Company, grown in floating bags. With the rise and fall of the tides, the tumbling of the oysters twice daily cause chipping of the growth area of the shell, resulting in a small dense specimen with a briney cucumber finish. Ryan served these raw cloaked with Margarita ice.
Ramp, a cousin of onion, leek and garlic was one of the first plants welcomed by spring in eastern North America. Pickled ramps played a role in the light refreshing soup flavored with tarragon and garnished with smoked salmon and fresh peas.
For the tasting course, Ryan served up hunks of tsixstorra sausage, a Spanish Basque fast cured sausage with red color and flavor from cayenne and pungency from garlic that can be made up to 3 feet long. The sausage imparted robust color and essence.
As with tradition, Maplethorpe took on course five, completing the savory offerings of the dinner. In the first inaugural Flavors Under the Big Sky, Maplethorpe talked about cooking his New York Strip Loin in the Sous Vide method.
Also in the show we discovered where Ryan liked to hang out in Seattle, and who some of his culinary heroes are. Go to thelastbestplates.com find out about the actual Guest Chef dinner.