text and photos by janie osbone
Scott Mechura literally stumbled upon his job as chef at The Timbers of Moonlight Lodge restaurant. In September of 2000, while hiking around the mountains of Big Sky, the vacationing Minnesota chef was exploring the North side of Lone Peak when he decided to check out a new, 30,000-square foot building under construction near Big Sky. Mechura's descent down the mountain led to the discovery that the building was the soon-to-open Moonlight Lodge, a resort that offers skiing, hotel accommodations, a spa, shopping and fine dining - something that Mechura has his hands on every day, now, as chef of the Timbers at Moonlight Lodge.
Mechura's timing in landing the job at the Timbers was good: he contacted owner Monte Johnson the night he stumbled across the lodge, and the owners (two brothers and their wives, Quinn and Emily Johnsen and Monte and Nancy Johnsen) just happened to be interviewing chefs . One step into The Timbers, with its high ceilings, tall, magnificent fireplaces and sleek stainless steel bar, reveals high-mountain elegance alongside the slopes at Moonlight Basin ski area. On the Timbers menu you'll find entrees like buffalo tenderloin with garlic risotto, port wine, onion and grape compote. Creating the caliber of entrees served at The Timbers didn't happen overnight.
These entrees represent the culmination of years of cooking experiences and hands-on learning for Mechura, 36. Mechura, 36, traces his culinary career back to his teen years working as a dishwasher. "I was kind of a hyperactive kid and so the energy of the restaurant was fun," he says. "I was putting much more of my efforts into my job, than into school and grades." Mechura would go on to accept a variety of positions at top restaurants.
At the age of 18, he would work at The Dock Cafe in Stillwater, Minnesota, an experience that he says opened his eyes to fresh ways of cooking. At age 2 0, Mechura would begin a nine-year stint at St. Paul's well-known French restaurant, "Forepaughs," and at 29, he worked as a sous chef at Stillwater's "La Belle Vie." At 30, he worked at Aquavit Minneapolis under the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. "Aquavit was a huge jump for me," he said. "It's how I learned to balance different flavors, textures and colors in a dish." Today, Mechura, who owns at least 250 cookbooks by diverse chefs, keeps up with the culinary times and isn't afraid to introduce exotic ingredients or delightfully surprising food combinations to the Timbers restaurant. Sometimes, for Mechura, creating a new menu item is a simple as coupling a familiar dish, like lamb, with an unexpected complimentary dish.
The grilled lamb and veal rack with cauliflower puree and roasted eggplant and chili relish, for instance, is his solution to the modernization of lamb and veal. Or, creating a new menu item means combining an entirely new ingredient such as the kamut ("kamut" is Egyptian for "wheat") in the smoked duck breast with fig honey. Mechura favors the kamut because its subtle flavor and firm texture create a balance to the duck and fig honey. "Texture is important," he says. Once Mechura is satisfied with a newly created menu item, the dish is presented to the panel of owners for a final taste test.
After five years, the Timbers restaurant has hit its stride. "We trust Scott and like what he does," Quinn Johnsen said. "Everyone thought we were crazy. It was a big gamble for us to move cross-country and open a restaurant. But I wanted to raise my kids in Montana." Customers like what Mechura does too: "People walk out with a smile and say they never expected food like this in Big Sky, Montana," says Quinn.
THE DISH The Timbers at Moonlight Lodge Phone: 406-995-7777 winter hours: open seven days a week, 5:30 p.m. to closing. On the Web: www.moonlightbasin.com; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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