Melissa Harrison started teaching virtual cooking classes to children through Live Lesson Masters.
Seasonal Montana emphasizes local in a difficult season
Melissa Harrison has been passionate about food since she was a kid playing in the garden at the Sparks, Maryland, horse farm where she grew up. Even the games she played with her brothers had a distinctly culinary bent. “They were the bussers and waiters and I was the chef,” she says. “It’s always been something I’ve enjoyed.” That passion has taken her to beautiful outdoor-oriented destinations all over the world, from Patagonia to Puerto Rico to Boulder, Colorado. For going on a decade, Harrison has been offering one-of-a-kind dining experiences in southwest and south-central Montana as the owner and chef of Seasonal Montana. Harrison’s business is always evolving in its offerings while holding fast to a pair of intertwined beliefs: Sharing food is a powerful way to create memories, and the best meals are created with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.
As Harrison sees it, part of her job as a chef is to highlight and support local suppliers so they can continue contributing to Montana’s vibrant, if still developing, food economy.
“If the West is supporting the West and food isn’t traveling as much, the small farms will survive,” she says of the importance of local economic interdependence. Integration between those who grow food, those who prepare it, and those who enjoy it is part of what makes Bozeman poised to “scary take off” in the food world, she says.
Harrison uses a long list of local providers for everything from lamb and bison to strawberries and microgreens. Her clients, who’ve sampled top fare from all over the world, tell her they’ve eaten some of the best cuts of meat of their lives at her table. She says there’s a difference in local grass-fed beef and local free-range chicken compared to what you can pull off the shelf at a grocery store, “and everyone deserves to know that difference.”
Melissa Harrison’s business is always evolving in its
offerings while holding fast to a pair of intertwined beliefs: Sharing food is a powerful way to create memories, and the best meals are created with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.
The farm dinners that Harrison has been putting on since 2011 are one of Seasonal Montana’s most distinctive offerings. Harrison sources ingredients from purveyors like Livingston’s Black Dog Farm and Bozeman’s Gallatin Valley Botanical and hosts a dinner right on the farm. These events are classy but not stuffy (the dress code is “Montana casual”), and enlivened by the acoustic melodies of the likes of Montana Rose. In addition to the aforementioned farms, Harrison’s next dinner will also highlight North Bridger Bison Ranch, a Shields Valley outfit focused on sustainably raising healthy, delicious bison. (Update: Due to COVID-19, this farm dinner has been postponed till 2021.)
Longtime Seasonal Montana client Jo Giese says that in addition to the food Harrison prepares—“always beautiful and delicious”—she appreciates Harrison’s talent for bringing people together in intimate settings ripe for community- building.
Giese was new to the Bozeman area when she attended Seasonal Montana’s first farm dinner at Three Hearts Farm west of town, and she can still recall how the sky turned black and a storm descended as they were having drinks. The wait staff gathered up the white tablecloths and table settings while the guests huddled together under a tractor storage area. “The storm passed and Melissa and her crew set up again as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened,”
Giese says. “It was very memorable.” Giese was hooked, and has attended at least one farm dinner every year since.Like any good chef, Harrison has a gift for adapting and innovating, and her resume bears this out. She appeared on “Top Chef: New York” in 2008 and assisted in opening three restaurants before she turned thirty. She’s constantly looking for ways to infuse creativity and fresh ideas into her offerings. “I think that’s what keeps people attracted to what you’re doing—they want to see what you’re going to do next,” she says.
Harrison’s ability to thoughtfully respond to a quickly evolving situation is serving her particularly well in this coronavirus-altered world. Among her new offerings are virtual cooking classes for children and adults taught through Live Lesson Masters and a local dinner service she calls “doorstep drop-offs.” She’s also preparing fresh, locally sourced lunches for fly fishing clients of a handful of fly shops in town this summer.
COVID-19 has also reaffirmed the importance of supporting local businesses and strengthening connections between them. “It is heart-wrenching, the struggle that small and large businesses are living to stay open and thrive,” Harrison said. “Our economy is and will be greatly affected by COVID and we need to stand together and support small businesses in Montana and across the U.S.”