Flavors: Westside Works Culinary Program Comes to Mountain Sky Guest Ranch
At the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch tucked into the Paradise Valley in Emigrant, Eastern spirits met Big Sky flavors. Two Westside Works Culinary Academy graduates from Atlanta received hands on training under the leadership of Executive Chef Mason Zeglen this summer. For five months, Tammy Freeman took the job of Prep Cook while Brittany Buchner assisted Pastry Chef Pam Comstock with the creation of desserts and baked goods, on the team of 14 in the ranch’s kitchen.
The 17,000 acres that began as a dude ranch in 1929 was purchased in 2001 by Arthur M. Blank, the co-founder of Home Depot, and current owner of the Atlanta Falcons. “This is the first business that Arthur bought after getting out of Home Depot,” Yancy Arterburn, AMB West General Manager said of the businessman who had been a guest at the property.
The Mountain Sky Guest Ranch is a member of the Blank Family of Businesses which include operations for both profit and philanthropy. The businesses consist of: The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, AMB Sports and Entertainment including the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and PGA TOUR Superstore. The guest ranch, West Creek Ranch – an invitation only place for philanthropic inspiration, and Paradise Valley Ranch with efforts to preserve traditional ranching make up AMB West.
Tawnya Rupe, Senior Program Director for AMB West Philanthropies shared how the local community has benefited, “Priority areas are early childhood development, youth development and empowerment. We’re in the third year where we launched an initiative for youth suicide prevention.” The Livingston Resource Center, which has the mission of eliminating hunger in Livingston and Park County have received funding along with the Farm to School program that provide agriculture, nutrition and cooking education in the public schools setting. Since 2001, over $8 million have supported and helped the local population.
“We always need hospitality folks, and this seemed like a really good connection with Westside Works from Atlanta to bring together two big pieces – to get folks out here. Not only does it benefit us from a cooking and culinary perspective, we also have the ability to give somebody some life skills, learning to take with them,” Arterburn said of culinary graduates being able to work at the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.
With some delays with the COVID Pandemic, Tammy Freeman came to Montana in May to fill the position of Prep Cook while Brittany Buchner took on the role of Assistant Pastry Chef.
Freeman who has lived in Atlanta for 29 years said of her passion for food growing up in Bainbridge, Georgia, “Food was always important. Both my grandmothers were excellent cooks, and everyone knew they could come to their house for food, and that was passed on to my mom.” Her mother cooked everyday even after a long day at work. “Everyday we would have a three-course meal.”
In 2003, Freeman knew she wanted to have an education in food. “I had looked into culinary schools, and of course, I couldn’t afford it, and I was blessed to have the opportunity come along.” She was one of the students selected to enter the six-week training program at Westside Works Culinary Academy where students were introduced to international cuisine, baking and pastry, and kitchen safety and sanitation protocols to obtain a Servsafe certification.
Of the program, Freeman shared, “It was a lot of work, high energy, but I thought about how people say, ‘when you do what you love, you will never work.’ She loved her training so much she added, “I appreciated every minute, and I wished it could have gone on longer.”
Being one of the best in her class of about a dozen students and passing the interview with Executive Chef Zeglen, Freeman earned a coveted position as a Prep Cook with transportation, lodging and food taken care of by the philanthropic arm of the Blank Family of Businesses.
Freeman learned, “the pace of night time service, and the expectations of how you go about getting everyone’s meal to them in a timely fashion. The plating is one of the things I am very meticulous about so I have had to learn how to move a little faster.” “People don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes before you actually sit down and get that meal,” Freeman added.
In the future, Freeman hoped, “I just have my sights set on a food truck. I don’t like the monotony of doing things over and over. I think, at that point, I can control where I go, and what I do. My menu does not have to be the same, if I don’t want it to be the same. Food has always been a source for me to make people happy, so it’s kind of like my love language.”
For Brittany Buchner, she said, “Back home in Atlanta I worked at guest services in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and I actually saw other people in the Westside Works Culinary class, in the kitchens there, and I did some digging and found out about it, and applied, and was fortunate to be offered a position in the class.” Buchner has “been AMB West and East for almost five years.”
Growing up near Silver Spring, Maryland, Buchner lived within walking distance of Heyser Farms, where fruit trees flourished along with vegetables. “I think that really got me into food and fresh food, farm to table. I started in that bake shop so it’s come full circle that I am on a ranch.”
At first, Buchner was considering a Prep Cook position, but “During the interview process with Mason who is our head chef, he found out I was interested in pastry and Pam needed an assistant.” She continued of working for Pastry Chef Pam Comstock, “I think I got really lucky by ending up in the pastry department. It’s definitely solidified where I want to be in the kitchen. I like working the line, but I love making pastries.”
In these last months, she confessed to having mastered making the Basque Cake, “a yellow cake filled with pastry cream so you’ve got to be really careful with the pastry cream, making sure it doesn’t leak out, and making sure the portions are right, so you don’t have a sunken cake.” The Tuxedo Cake also brought challenge that she feels she has conquered.
“This job has given me a lot of confidence. I feel able to go into a restaurant and revamp their dessert menu. With an opportunity at their restaurant, I could make their menu great and that would be ideal,” Buchner said. For her, the great dessert menu consisted of: “something eclectic, something that’s going to have something you know, something you totally don’t know, and then something original with a twist.”
“Dessert is one of the most important parts of dining along with your server experience. It’s the end of the meal. It’s something they’re going to really remember when they leave, and you don’t want to leave them on a poor note,” Buchner concluded.
For Executive Chef Mason Zeglen, he enjoyed watching the cooking passion grow in both women. “Brittany came with passion and it got to flourished,” Zeglen said. For Freeman, Zeglen asked her to cook something from the region she was from. Freeman made breakfast gravy beckoning from her southern roots. However, the challenge is greater because of having to cook up a larger volume. With three gallons of gravy, Zeglen commended Freeman on how she could make the adjustments for taste and consistency. “That’s just something that doesn’t come naturally with everybody. It really shows her passion for food.”
Brittany Buchner and Tammy Freeman brought cooking passion from the East to Big Sky country and hopefully, they will take the flavors of Montana to wherever in the world they will bake and cook next.