Flavors: The Prerogative to Eat What You Want
At PREROGATIvE KITCHEN in Red Lodge, a diner can practice the words from Bobby Brown’s song, My Prerogative when ordering food at the restaurant. “I don’t need permission, make my own decisions. That’s my prerogative,” were the words of inspiration for the naming of the restaurant owned by Chef Chris Lockhart and Gena Burghoff serving comfort and fine dining fare.
The a la carte menu developed by two-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef: Mountain for 2022 and 2023, Chef Lockhart, combined favorites from their past ventures at Ox Pasture, Montana Jack’s, and the Local Yokel. (Danny Mowatt shared the Beard recognition with Lockhart, but left the restaurant early this year to start his own venture, Cook with Me, a private chef and catering business.)
While Montana Jack’s in Dean offered more Western style food with burgers and barbecue, the Local Yokel was the first venture Lockhart and Burghoff embarked on in Red Lodge serving ingredients sourced from within 100 miles which was a new idea in 2011 in Red Lodge.
The Ox Pasture, a venture with David and Alexa Leuschen, gave the couple entre into a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2016. The Leuschens wanted to start an incubation tank for chefs and good food across the street from the Pollard Hotel on the main drag, giving Chef Lockhart a space to create some fine dining fare. At Ox Pasture, Lockhart created a menu that was “produce driven first” to having “the protein that is picked to go along with the produce.”
In 2019, the couple embarked on their own venture a few blocks south of Ox Pasture.
They took over the space once occupied by the City Bakery. With a limited budget, Burghoff refashioned the place into a playful café with a rustic boudoir theme with old muffin pans from the bakery lining the back wall alongside the old neon sign. The old proofing room was converted into an intimate space with velvet couches and curtained privacy. The kitchen, directly off the dining room, gives guests a view into the kitchen as their food is being cooked.
The playfulness shows in the logo created by Louis Habeck of a lamb dressed up in a suit holding a chicken. “I thought long and hard about this logo,” Burghoff shares of the vision coming in a dream. “What I dreamt was a lamb, a little drunk at a wedding, holding a rotisserie chicken.” She mentioned it to Habeck and he came up with the logo.
The lightheartedness continues into the restroom where 36 rolls of toilet paper are found on the wall, because Burghoff says, “There’s a joke in the restaurant business that make restaurant people a little crazy and one of them is being told that there is no longer toilet paper in the bathroom during a dinner rush so we decided that will never happen here.”
After entering the restaurant, the diners choses their food from a large blackboard with options of Snacks - Pimento Cheese and Smoked Trout Mousse; Salads - Large Kale Caesar; Smalls – Tuna Poke Nachos, Bison Ravioli and Duck Bao Buns; Proteins consisting of one Chicken Thigh, Crispy Tofu, Bavette Steak, and Bone in Pork Chop to Sandwiches with options of Risotto Sliders, Foot Long Lobster Roll, and PK Burger. Dessert offerings consist of Sticky Toffee Pudding, Cherry Crisp and Lava Cake. The order is taken at the counter in front of a wall of wines displayed with four descriptors.
“We wanted something that was visually impressive as you walked in,” Lockhart shares. “So many people choose with their eyes. A lot of people look at a wine list and they get a little lost and confused.” The wall of wine makes selecting wine fun and easy.
During the summers, Lockhart cooks for guests and visiting artists at Tippet Rise.
The chef who began originally working the front of the house in his early career, he has found a comfortable place in the kitchen. Bughoff and Lockhart met in Cambodia, at Angor Wat. While he beckoned from across the pond in England, Burghoff grew up in Powell, Wyoming. She wanted to share the Big Sky country from her childhood with him.
Lockhart first gained his confidence in cooking at the Regis Cafe. Cooking for a full house for brunch and positive feedback brought the belief that he could excel in the kitchen. “I’ve had no one teaching me, just my reading, and I have always watched my chefs and have learned so much from them, and it seemed natural.”
The naturalness allows couple to embrace Red Lodge for Burghoff says, “This community is one that is not like any other. We saw it in 2022 with the floods, how everyone comes together and supports each other.”
PREROGATIvE KITCHEN helps the community by asking customers to donate $1 to $5 when they pay their bill for the restaurant donated monies monthly to a nonprofit. Monies have gone to Recycle Red Lodge, Friends of the Library, Farm to School, Volunteer Firemen, and Search and Rescue. The couple also took immediate action to help employees find shelter after their homes were devastated by last year’s flood.
With good food and community, diners have the prerogative to eat whatever they want to eat.
Go to: https://www.ypradio.org/show/flavors-under-the-big-sky/2017-07-17/flavors-local-bounty-at-ox-pasture-in-red-lodge for Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region show with Chef Chris Lockhart and Gena Burghoff when they were at Ox Pasture.