Friday, July 31, 2015

Interview with Chef Scott Mechura, Executive Chef at Bucks T-4 Lodging and Dining

The following interview was made possible by the NW Tastemaker, a culinary travel publication forthcoming from Northwest Travel Magazine. To read more interviews with the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest, visit Northwest Travel Magazine and TableTalkNorthwest.com.

Chef Scott Mechura, Executive Chef at Bucks T-4 Lodging and Dining

With a history dating back to 1946, Bucks T-4 Lodge is one of the most famous dining options is Montana, and the historic restaurant is known for preparing local game, such as antelope and bison, using traditional European cooking techniques. Think Cast Iron Seared Red Deer Loin with maple gratin, foraged mushroom conserva and apple jam, and Southwest Montana Raised Rainbow Trout with oyster mushrooms, creamed kale, red quinoa and lemon-sage olive oil. In addition to these game-centric dishes, Bucks T-4 Lodge also serves a host of burgers, quesadillas, and, even, bahn mi.

Executive Chef Scott Mechura heads the kitchen at Bucks T-4 Lodge. Originally from Minnesota, Chef Mechura started his career in some of Minnesota's most lauded restaurants, including Forepaughs and Aquavit, and he soon found that he could find as much inspiration from the eating habits of dishwashers and prep-cooks as he could from executive chefs. This is how he learned the complex but homey flavors of Laos and Korea, for instance, and he loves international cuisines, including Swedish, French, Thai, and Vietnamese. After cooking in Minnesota, he moved to Montana, where he cooked in famous lodges for several years. Then, he moved to Austin, Texas, for three years. In 2014, he returned to Montana and joined Bucks T-4 Lodge, where he took over the kitchen from long-time chef Chuck Schommer. Schommer started cooking at Bucks T-4 when he was 22, and he now owns the restaurant.

1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?

With such a bounty of fresh, regional, and interesting products to choose from from right outside our back door, Northwest cuisine to me is wild mushrooms and ramps; extraordinary seafood, game, and poultry; wild berries; and amazing herbs. With its long seasons and mostly mild climate, the Northwest has all of these items and more to offer, and the chefs here prepare these ingredients with a practical sensibility that isn’t too fussy or contrived. 

2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with?

With Buck’s T-4 being located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, we work with many purveyors right here, as well as all over the Northwest. In tying in to the previous question, Fresh And Wild is one of my favorite purveyors. We have a farmer here in the Gallatin Valley, Doug Stream, who meets with us each year and asks us what we would like him to grow for us. Gallatin Valley Botanical provides wonderful produce. Sierra Meats is a great supplier of game and proteins, and importantly, it has no problem keeping up with our volume. Lazy SR Ranch provides us with pork and marrow bones. We use Taylor Shellfish out of Shelton, WA, for great West Coast mussels.

3. When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?

We have a great little Thai restaurant here in town called the Lotus Pad. They work with many local growers and ranchers. How many Thai restaurants do that?! In our nearby town, Montana Ale Works always provides consistent local cuisine, great microbrews from our area, and warm, friendly, service.

4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire?

Greg Higgins set the bar high for chefs around the country in building sustainable relationships with ranchers, growers and vendors. The Paley’s of Paley’s Place have a finger on the pulse of knowing how to connect with their guests in an unpretentious way.

5. In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?

I really don’t. I feel like many other regions of this country—The Rockies, Texas Hill Country, New England, The Upper Midwest, The Central Coast—all have a respect for each other, as well as a very deep respect for the entire Northwest.

6. Looking toward the future, what are you most excited to do in the kitchen?

Much like central California, we’re starting to see many ingredients that are indigenous to other parts of the globe being successfully cultivated in the Northwest. Truffles and wasabi, for example. I am very excited to develop locally sourced products that we can market outside our restaurant, as well as in our forthcoming retail store.

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