There are some who believe the best food is the wildest; food never restrained by fences, fed hormones, wrapped in plastic, or packaged “just so”. Seventy-five of us ‘wild food believers’ recently convened in a 109-year-old Missoula Valley tack barn belonging to legendary wilderness outfitter Smoke Elser for Fire Meets Food—a four course extravaganza mixing gourmet, wild, rough and refined.
Held during Backcountry Hunters & Anglers annual Rendezvous, Fire Meets Food celebrates one of humankind’s oldest and most revered ceremonies – our connection through food. The evening felt as though we were all gathered around a primitive campfire yet somehow simultaneously seated at one of the world’s finest restaurants. There was no distinction between campfire and restaurant; the two merged into one.
Rules were simple. Four chefs, two acclaimed professionals and two seasoned amateurs who hunt and cook their own, would each create a dish using wild ingredients prepared with backcountry cooking methods. Cold salads, open flames, grills, and Dutch ovens. (I fell into the seasoned amateur category.)
J.R. Young (an avid gardener, preserver, and hunter who volunteers as BHA’s California chapter co-chair and Treasurer) kicked things off with wild trout salad accented with asparagus, soft-boiled egg and homemade lemon curd. Hank Shaw, a James Beard award-winner and leader in the wild food movement, stepped up next with fire-roasted whole antelope legs over wild greens and mushrooms. Cholly McGlynn, an award-winning 5-star chef from Steamboat, Colorado, served Dutch oven wild game lasagna with his own hand-made cheeses and pasta. I grilled elk loin—from an elk I harvested and packed off a mountain a few months prior—and served it with huckleberry sauce made with huckleberries from our hard-won family stash. Cholly concluded the evening with flathead cherries and rhubarb crafted into a hot Dutch oven crisp.
Any good ceremony must include libations. Glacier Distilling Company poured many a Packer’s Roost (Fireweed Bourbon Whisky, Cherry Brandy Liqueur & Sparkling Lemonade) while Spotted Bear Spirits concocted Vodka Club Shrubs: Confluence Vodka with fresh-squeezed, honey sweetened & thyme-infused lemonade). J.R. selected wines from his favorite boutique California vineyards; beer was provided by Missoula Brewing Company. The pairings were spot-on.
We dined surrounded by saddles, bridles and blankets that had seen countless trips into the Bob Marshal, Scapegoat, and Great Bear. The sweet and musky scent of leather and outfitting gear mingled with the delectable aroma of flame-roasted game. The crowd hummed with appreciation and excitement. At just the right time Smoke stood and with his soft lyrical voice delivered a powerful message of reverence for the wild in all of us. With raised glasses, we shouted approval.
BHA’s members are soulfully connected to wild things. On this night, after connecting over wild food, we toasted to preserving wild places—especially public ones—so that everyone has the opportunity to hunt, fish and gather in them. As with many sacred events, Fire Meets Food is destined to become an annual occurrence.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a non-profit organization which provides sportsmen a voice on wild public land, water and wildlife issues. To join, donate or learn more go to backcountryhunters.org.
Photos in this post are courtesy of Lyle Vinson. You can follow Lyle on Instagram here.