Farm-to-table catering service offers the best of southwest Montana

By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – For chef Melissa Harrison, who grew up on a horse farm north of Baltimore, there’s something powerful about the places where our food is grown.

“I grew up in this amazing world where living on a farm was very special,” said Harrison, owner of the Ennis-based farm-to-table catering service Seasonal Montana. “That was my inspiration.”

After studying at the Baltimore International College and receiving her culinary arts degree, Harrison started working her way up the business ladder. She expanded her kitchen prowess at the Big Red F Restaurant Group and in 2008 was asked to appear on the hit television series “Top Chef.” But despite her success, Harrison realized something was missing.

“As a creative person, you can lose focus,” she said. “At the time, I was doing everything everyone else wanted me to do and I wanted to find out what I wanted to do.” In 2009 Harrison traveled to Latin America, working as a chef in Costa Rica as well as Patagonia, Chile.

“When I got to Chile I got excited again,” she said, recalling the way eggs were delivered weekly, regular market trips produced fresh, seasonal produce, and protein was delivered on the hoof, so to speak. Harrison spent the next five winters working at the Martin Pescador Lodge, meeting her husband Garrett Blackburn, a head fishing guide for the Chilean lodge, along the way.

In 2011 the couple made their offseason home in Montana.

“I was really inspired by the farmers’ markets and the local food community,” Harrison said. “People in Montana actually live by [farm-to-table]. Everyone is growing, farming, ranching.”

Excited to make a start outside of Chile, Harrison started her own catering business, Seasonal Montana, and began by hosting four farm-to-table dinner events at Three Hearts Farm in Bozeman in 2011. Forty-four people came to Harrison’s first event, and six years later Seasonal Montana hosts a summer series of farm-to-table dinners able to feed 300 people each.

Each farm-to- table dinner is all about Montana, from the food to the location. The first dinner will be held on June 21 at Willow Spring Ranch in Belgrade. PHOTO BY MELISSA HARRISON

This summer, Harrison will hold her first dinner of the season on June 21 at Willow Spring Ranch in Belgrade, and will feature different cuts of the ranch’s organically raised, grass fed and finished lamb.

Dinners are held at various farms and ranches throughout the summer, and after the Willow Spring Ranch event, this year’s series includes Sabo Ranch in Harrison on July 12, Gallatin Valley Botanical in Bozeman on Aug. 2, Jack Creek Preserve between Ennis and Big Sky on Aug. 23, and Two Dot Land and Livestock in Harlowton on Sept. 6. Harrison will highlight the products of each location with her cooking, and the menu isn’t planned until the week of the event so she can prepare the meal with in–season ingredients.

“I want to know what’s in season in that moment. I want the freshest at that moment,” Harrison said. “I try to make sure people are getting a really special Montana experience, whether they’re from Montana or not.

“There are certain items you have to buy at Costco, like oil and salt and pepper,” she added. Otherwise, she tries to buy ingredients directly from the producer. “It’s the healthiest, best ingredients you can find, from people who are doing food the right way,” Harrison said.

In addition to the farm-to-table dinner series each summer, Seasonal Montana is a full catering service between April and December, and Harrison teams up with her husband to offer lodging and catering services as a package for Blackburn’s fishing clients through Hooked Outfitting in Ennis.

While garnering recognition and new clientele in southwest Montana, Harrison is also expanding her reach in South America. In 2015 she started Seasonal Puerto Rico, which offers dining, Caribbean adventure and Tarpon fishing guided by Harrison’s husband. In the future she plans to start farm-to-table dinners in Puerto Rico as well.

“I’m inspired by the seasons and by the ingredients,” Harrison said. “I love it.”

To learn more about Seasonal Montana or to view a full schedule and purchase tickets for the farm-to-table dinner series, visit seasonalmontana.com. To learn about Seasonal Puerto Rico, visit seasonalpuertorico.com.