Ahead of the holiday season, we catch up with chef Ben Jones who works at The Resort at Paws Up.
Give readers a little background about how you became a chef and what brought you to Montana and The Resort at Paws Up?
I wanted to be a chef since I was 10 years old. First, it was the competitive aspect that drew me in, and then it quickly grew into an artistic expression. Food has inspired me on many levels, mostly as a medium for free-form art and expressions of abstract thought. Having spent my childhood in southern Oregon, Montana was a natural choice to raise my family. When we first moved here in 2005, it was a little tough – but I found out about The Resort at Paws Up, and I knew that I had to work there to make Montana work for my family life. I deeply missed the luxury market and was eager to return. I followed The Resort closely for seven years and was hired in 2013. Being able to raise my family in such a unique, promising setting and still execute my food on the highest levels is my dream fulfilled.
What inspires your dishes?
Local energy, growers, people, Shakespeare, Hemingway and Picasso. It’s a weird list, I know, but it's the truth. My best dishes are from the relationships I form.
How can people spice up their Thanksgiving dinners?
Try out some unusual ingredients you don't normally use. Instead of yams, cook with delicata squash. Instead of cinnamon, sprinkle in cardamom or Chinese five spice. Cooking is mostly trying new things and experimenting before the big day – not the day of.
Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving dessert other than pumpkin pie?
Caramel sauce with local apples is my secret Thanksgiving Day indulgence. I eat two or three apples with a cup of caramel sauce while I watch "It's a Wonderful Life." It's all about tradition.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving leftovers meal?
Stuffing, turkey, cranberries and mayonnaise on lightly griddled sourdough bread. It’s simple, but it’s so good.
What’s your best Thanksgiving tip?
Write everything down. Have a plan. Be ready for a disaster, react and respond. If you are prepared ahead of time, you can overcome anything – even a kitchen meltdown. Just breathe and remember you are doing this because you love it.
What do you love most of all about Thanksgiving?
I mentioned tradition earlier. I am reminded of watching "It’s a Wonderful Life" and "Fiddler on the Roof" with my mom and helping make Thanksgiving sides and basting turkey all day long. Today tradition comes from my overall love of the preparation of the whole feast. Bringing people together on a day of thanks means so much to me that sometimes you will catch me with a tear in my eye – and a turkey leg in my hand. I am a dark meat!
The Resort at Paws Up is hosting its first-ever Thanksgiving celebration with tradition and non-traditional options to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Bison tenderloin with cherry demi-glace and crab-stuffed rainbow trout are just two of the main course choices. Of course there will be plenty of turkey, an array of sides, desserts and wine and spirits.
For wine recommendations, Paws Up Food and Beverage manager Erick Grimley suggests Cakebread Zinfandel or Joseph Drouhin Burgundy to pair with the bison tenderloin.
“I would recommend a rosé, such as Sables d’Azur or Miraval (both from France) or a Viognier such as Reynvaan Queen’s Road with the trout,” Grimley said.
Bison Tenderloin with Cherry Demi-Glace
If you can’t find fresh cherries, purchase cherries in the freezer section of your grocery store. Thaw before using.
1 pound bison tenderloin, sliced into 4-ounce portions
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces ruby red port
4 ounces fresh cherries, pitted (*see note above)
In a large skillet, sear tenderloin in hot oil over medium-high heat. Season bison with salt and pepper; cook until medium-rare, turning bison on its sides to keep the cooking even, about 7 to 8 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.
Simmer the port and cherries 45 minutes to 1 hour over medium-low heat, until the port and cherry sauce takes on a syrupy consistency. (Don’t overcook as the sauce can scorch very quickly.) Serve bison and demi-glace over roasted asparagus and potatoes, if desired.
• This recipe serves four.
Jumbo Lump Crab Stuffed Rainbow Trout
Your local fish market or grocery store will typically scale and debone the trout for you.
2 whole rainbow trout, scaled and deboned
Kosher salt and pepper
4 ounces jumbo lump crabmeat
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
2 ounces mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons butter
Open trout so both filets are facing flesh-side up. Season trout with salt and pepper; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine crabmeat, panko, parsley, shallots, thyme, garlic, mayonnaise, lemon juice, egg yolk and cayenne pepper, mixing gently. Divide crabmeat mixture in half. Stuff from end-to-end on one half of the trout and fold other filet on top of stuffing. Season the skin of the trout with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large ovenproof skillet, sear trout in hot grapeseed oil and butter over medium heat 2 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip the trout over gently without breaking the skin. (The trick to cooking fish with its skin on is to not disturb it at all until the fish releases freely during the cooking process.)
Place skillet in preheated oven 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve immediately.
• This recipe serves four.