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Time for a field trip

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

There is a saying that everything you need to know as an adult, you learned in kindergarten. Do field trips fall into that category?

A few weeks ago, a handful of the Buck’s T-4 team took what we’re calling a field trip. I’m talking about an all-riding-in-a-van, midday break with a packed picnic lunch; a trip where everyone sticks together and has fun but learns something along the way.

We value our relationships at Buck’s, and that includes the men and women who provide us with such essential items as beef, fish and libations.

We started off our day with a 6 a.m. departure, an impressive feat in and of itself. After all, we aren’t part of the golf world, say, which routinely starts its day during what I call rooster hours, but rather food and beverage professionals who end our days polishing glassware or scrubbing stoves when most others are well into R.E.M. sleep.

We arrived at Nelson’s Spring Creek Ranch on a crisp Paradise Valley morning around 8 a.m. Trent Mack, our trout supplier from Trout Culture, had just begun his harvest. Upon seeing us, he took a break from his duties of feeding and harvesting the fish to tell us about the history of the farm and what his day consists of.

Herding trout to net can prove frustrating as we witnessed, particularly when the fish organize themselves and collectively knock the holding screen out and escape back into the main pool. But it’s a labor of love for Mack. One of us commented that harvesting fish in early morning cold water is a formidable task, but Mack reminded us that it’s no less challenging than when it’s 18 below.

Roger Nelson, the ranch’s fourth generation landowner, also greeted us that morning. He thanked us for taking the time to visit the farm, and off he went for his morning pond-inspection rounds.

We then headed to Columbus, Mont., to a federally inspected processing plant. Another family operated business, Stillwater Packing Co. processes a multitude of animals and products. We were allowed to witness the skilled and efficient processing of an entire cow, a glimpse behind the curtain few people, even in the hospitality industry, see.

As we navigated the cold hallways and meat lockers, and whispered a few horror movie references to each other, we made our way to the butchering area where entire sides of beef are broken down – a term for butchering a carcass – by one man with the ease of you or I buttering our morning toast.

We found new respect for the men and women that work in a refrigerated room, lifting heavy carcasses, breaking them down, and packaging them into weighty boxes for shipment, only to scrub down their workspace like a hospital, and begin the entire process again the next day.

After a picnic lunch along the Yellowstone River, it was off to our final stop: Katabatic Brewing Co. in Livingston.

Named for the cold winds that usher Livingstonians into doorways most of the winter, Katabatic welcomed our group warmly with a 30-minute tour followed by a tasting. Having just opened in September 2014, the brewery is finding the success it hoped for. LaNette Jones, one of the owners, went through the brewing process in thorough detail, and we ended the field trip with a thorough sampling.

Whatever your interests, hobbies, or occupations are as adults, the field trip process, in my opinion, should never end. I’m just lucky and proud to work with a team that’s all about packing a picnic and piling in the van as much as I am.

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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