CONNECTED BY FIRE // Chef Topher Strittmatter
Meet the Chef
Chef Topher Strittmatter’s love for cooking began at childhood, learning in his mother’s kitchen in Indiana. By college, the draw of the culinary arts eclipsed his studies of political science at Indiana University, and he pulled up stakes, moved to Austin and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. Since, his dedication and skill have catapulted his career to the level of executive chef. Currently residing in Jackson, WY, he runs the kitchen at a globally renowned luxury resort.
One thing that stands out about Topher is his willingness to create and share amazing food with his community. He’s one of the most passionate, fun and focused chefs we’ve ever known, and we love his hands-on approach to the relationship between food and nature.
It's just past calving season in the west and the annual branding ceremony is coming up. For rural ranchers across the range, this is a simple gathering for work. Friends, family and neighbors in the community show up to help one another in the task of getting the fresh calves ready for the rangeland. Topher drives four hours east to Ten Sleep, WY, and the Carter Country Meats family ranching operation. After a decade of cooking in high pressure professional kitchens across the United States, he’s grown tired of sourcing meat from marketing materials and catalogs. He wants to know, experience and see where it all starts: how the grass grows, how the cows are raised, how a family meat production company competes with giant corporations.
Small batch beef, big kitchen
For a top tier kitchen, finding a phenomenal meat product is priority No. 1, but supporting local meat providers can require a little more care and investment. The value in sourcing locally not only supports small businesses and ranchers, but it creates much stronger relationships and enriched experiences. Everyone involved knows the meat is special, from the rancher, to the chef, and ultimately, the consumer. Often the best ingredients turn out to be what's in your backyard.
As a hunter, the process of researching, locating and harvesting an animal on public land requires hard work and appreciation for the natural world, and sourcing beef uses many of those lessons. We asked Topher to share his inspiration with us.
I remember my first time eating wild game, I was 10 or 11 years old when a neighbor shared a deer with our family. I was enthralled by the fact that I’d seen deer my entire life and now I’m actually at the dinner table ready to eat a deer steak. It left a lasting impression on me. Often forgotten, a hands-on approach to the process is what evokes respect that we feel for an animal and the natural world.
One of the best things about diving into wild country is reconnecting and becoming part of nature, of the animals’ life and observing behavior in a natural environment. Domestic beef included, a respect for the animal comes from engaging through the entire process, finishing with the meal that you have prepared.
It would be a damn shame to make a bad meal from an animal's life. Knowledge and engaging in the process brings a lot of meaning to the meal, especially when you get to share it with family and friends.
How do I cope with messing up? When cooking a hard won animal that you’ve carried out of the woods or a $100 steak, we’re usually not as willing to try something new. You’re always going to get nervous cooking something special, that's part of life, but in order to ensure it tastes good requires practice. The greater the risk, greater the reward and in the end, it’s still food. Try your best but be willing to learn from mistakes, if what you’ve made turns out marginal, eat it! This way you’ll be able to remember your mistake, one bite at a time.
Don’t get cold feet in a hot kitchen, the biggest adversity to overcome is yourself. Chefs are always trying to push the limits, but scrutinize their work through a filter that tends to be extremely judgmental. So, whether a cantankerous customer or the voice in your head, the majority of feedback you get is negative. It becomes very difficult to fight that day-to-day pressure that nudges you towards creating adventureless and risk-averse dishes. No professional chef has ever gone an entire career without encountering failures. The best advice I can offer is to just keep on trying!
What do you like about the Burch Barrel?
From my work in commercial kitchens, it’s rare and exciting when you find a high quality product that allows you to produce the same quality at home. As an outdoorsman and hunter, it’s even more rare to find a product that fills the void from house to campsite and never compromises the ability to perform at the highest standards of a professional chef. Usually camping grills are never the grill you want at home, but with a Burch Barrel you can perform at the top tier whether at home or at hunting camp.
Tune in to the BBQ Live Event Saturday April 18 @ 2pm MST
Check out Chef Strittmatter's recipes for the menu in advance: