FEAST: River of Dreams

By on November 22, 2016

Meet floating chef Scott Nechay.

(Photo: Hannah Hardaway, bottom right: Jordan Siemens Photography)

(Photo: Hannah Hardaway, bottom right: Jordan Siemens Photography)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Recently I caught up with chef and self-proclaimed trout bum Scott Nechay to chat about his burgeoning fly fishing/private chef business. He floats, literally, between Jackson Hole and Bozeman, Mont., calling both places home (although he lives more like a vagabond). He takes equal advantage of a network of fish filled waterways and local vendors to serve inspired food along the shores of our backcountry riverbanks.

Introductions can be tough. So I blurted out one of the first things that came to mind after we sat down. “Apparently you have good knife skills,” I said, eying his fingers that rested loosely around his coffee cup.

He smiled at my awkwardness as his windburned cheeks brightened. “Yeah, it’s been a long time since I cut myself,” he said. “[My hands] are looking pretty rough though. This time of year, I spend a lot of hours pulling [or rowing], then my hands are constantly immersed in the water when I’m cooking.”    

Nechay’s hands are testament to the rugged nature of long days on the river and his dedication to his craft. Demand for a good fishing guide and chef has taken him from Green River Lakes in the Northern Wind River Mountains, up to the Salmon, Bitterroot, and Missouri Rivers in Montana, as far south as Columbia and Central America, and east to Bar Harbor, Maine.

In an industry that hinges on knowing the right people, Nechay doesn’t waste time forging quick connections. In Bar Harbor, he hopped off the plane and went looking for lobster. He asked around and ended up befriending “a lobster guy.” Nechay asked the lobster guy where to source the best produce; he asked the produce guy where he could find a good wine store. He asked the wine guy about cheese, and he asked them all about the best local fishing spots.

Nechay’s inspiration comes from a mix of personal experiences. He has a degree from the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) and worked under Chef Sylvain LeCougic in Nashville, Tenn., for two years. He follows the work of acclaimed Argentinean chef Francis Mallmann and New York’s Dan Barber, both of whom gained international popularity from the Netflix series Chef’s Table. Nechay says he appreciates Mallmann for his rugged approach to slow cooking in the outdoors, and Barber for his passionate farm to table initiatives.

But two other people were even more influential.  His first good memories of the kitchen revolve around his grandmother, who had him whipping up vats of pasta bolognese by the time he was eight years old. Then at the age of fourteen, after landing a job as a caddy at the Royal Fox Golf Club outside of Chicago, he was pulled off the green by executive chef Paul Bringas.

“Do you know how to make an omelet?” the chef asked Nechay.

Soon he was working an omelet station for a banquet hall, helping turn 700-plus covers a day. The young Nechay was hooked.

What does a day on the river look like for Nechay and his clients? The itinerary starts with outdoor breakfast at 5 a.m. Rustic benches surround a rustic table topped with a white linen tablecloth, ceramic-coated tin plates, coffee steaming over the fire, potatoes roasting in the coals. He might be serving corn beef hash or eggs benedict. The eggs are farm raised, the produce is from Cosmic Apple or the Bozeman Market, the butter is from Belgrade. On the river in a drift boat by 7:45, he and his guests arrive at noon to a meeting place where his staff has set up a table, cold craft beer and chilled white wine. This is where Nechay will prepare his clients’ next meal. He points to his split top lobster roll and a soba noodle salad as major hit.

And dinner? Is Nechay cooking up his catch?
“Sometimes, but mostly catch and release,” he said.

A true fly fishing guide, Nechay’s answer doesn’t surprise me. Instead, his clients suffer through nights of Wagyu beef, tuna belly, langoustines, whole roasted organic chicken and rack of lamb cooked over an open fire and served on walnut planks.

Having been picked up by Orvis, Lattitudes, Montana Hunting Company, the Yellowstone Club, The Clear Creek Group, and a number of high profile clients whose names he makes a point not to mention, Nechay is rather a busy guy. In fact, he was forced to postpone his vacation this year.   
Oh, that’s too bad. I ask the poor guy who spends his days fishing and cooking what he had planned.

He looks wistfully out the window. “Tarpon Fishing off the Yucatan.”

Q&A Lightning Round

What’s in your toolkit? A sashimi knife, 12-inch chef’s knife, utility knife, tongs and a Japanese mandolin.

Favorite serving platter? 12-inch slab of black walnut

Best local beef: Snake River Farms: New York Strip.

Best produce? Cosmic Apple, Bozeman Market, The Chef’s Garden in Ohio.

Wine pick? Whether it’s Old World or New World, I don’t spend more than $50. I’ll drink anything that Eric at Bin 22 or Joe from Liquor Down South recommend. My current favorite: The Transcendentalist Shiraz/Grenache Blend from California.

Most important ingredient? Good quality sea salt.

Thing to remember? Don’t overcomplicate things. Let the flavor of whatever you are cooking fend for itself.  PJH


About Traci McClintic

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