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Have I told you how I love working with chefs?



By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

I have written abundantly about chefs. I write about our dispositions, our philosophies, our challenges and hardships, our triumphs and failures. We can be some of the most unique individuals to simply be around, let alone work with or for.

I’m one of the easy-going ones, but that wasn’t always the case. For instance, I once lost my temper so badly in the kitchen that I put a huge dent in the oven door with my foot. That dent was curved, much like a smile, and it remained there for years laughing at me for my childish behavior every morning I turned on the lights.

But despite all that, when I need to go elbow to elbow with anyone in today’s work force, I’ll choose a chef every time.

Chefs are many things, including confident and opinionated. But two other particulars are that chefs are organized and they are collaborators.

Two weeks ago I was part of an event at Chico Hot Springs put together by the Western Sustainability Exchange. The event was WSE’s annual Harvest, which is an auction and fundraiser to help promote sustainable ranching and farming throughout our great state. It also connects chefs with these same farmers and ranchers in hopes they can help complete the circle of utilization and relationships.

Each chef in the Harvest was responsible for an appetizer or one of the dinner courses. And in the case of the main entrée, I was one of three chefs who joined forces. What could possibly be challenging about an event with a kitchen chock-full of chefs?

Walking into a kitchen packed with culinary experts, some of whom are friends, some acquaintances and some peers, laughter and smiles instantly pervade. Everyone is working diligently on their portion of the evening.

But therein lies the hypocrisy: In our own kitchens we coach our respective teams to be focused while keeping the idle chatter to a minimum. Yet when a group of chefs get together, the kitchen is anything but quiet. Make no mistake, we’re attentive to our individual projects, but our provocation would put the legendary trash talking of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to shame.

But here’s the thing: It’s all in fun. Every bit of it. Because when its time to perform and the curtain goes up so to speak, we are the most professional, focused, respectful, supportive and organized group of men and women you will ever meet.

Our final attendance for the evening was 214, and our event went off like a Swiss watch. Yes, we are a room full of alphas and Type A personalities, but we’re also all extremely adept at recognizing our roll and contribution in the moment.

No one steps on toes and no one challenges another. We are heads down, laser-focused, and decisions are made intelligently, quickly, collectively and without questioning. When the rubber meets the road, the idle yammering instantly turns to conversation as precise as a surgeon asking for an instrument.

And here’s the coolest part: When it’s all over, and the curtain goes down, we breathe. We gather our tools. We toast our evening together with a glass of champagne. And while the jokes and trash talking immediately picks up where we left off earlier in the evening, it’s intertwined with what we could have done better, what we can do next year, and what our menu should be.

This year’s presidential candidates consist of a former lawyer and a business tycoon, and while those are both respectable backgrounds, I’m starting to wish a chef would run for president.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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