The 37,000-acre Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana seamlessly blends into the wilderness. The luxury property, which offers guests horseback riding, backcountry tours, and snowmobiling excursions among other activities, was designed with the intent of living with nature instead of in opposition to it. Fish and Feast, a weekend long culinary event held at the resort for five years running, aligns with the resort’s values of sustainability and appreciation for everything the natural world has to offer.
Held over Labor Day weekend at Paws Up resort, guests are promised an unforgettable experience communing with nature. Guests will spend their days fly-fishing and exploring the banks of the beautiful Blackfoot River; their nights will involve stellar meals cooked by visiting chefs. William Dissen is one of the guest chefs this year, who also happens to be a foraging expert and might even integrate a foraging lesson into the Fish and Feast weekend.
Chef Dissen is a multi-talented restaurateur who incorporates traditional Appalachian plant knowledge and sustainable food practices into his work. He spends his free time outdoors, hiking, fly-fishing, and foraging. While growing up in rural West Virginia, his grandfather would take him foraging for wild foods like ramps, mushrooms, and ginseng.
“I just thought he was kind of a crazy old guy and I was just humoring him going on a hike with him in the woods… fast forward and that’s one of the big things we showcase in our menus,” says Dissen.
His goal at the Fish & Feast weekend is to integrate these hobbies and what he does in his North Carolina restaurants (including The Market Place in Asheville) into a fun learning experience. Dissen will accompany guests on fishing excursions, and along the way he says there’s a possibility the group might “forage anything we saw in the forest at the resort while we were in transit to go fishing.” Any ingredients they gather will be used to make their meals.
While there is some element of planning when it comes to the menus (to adhere to guests’ dietary requirements) the bounties of nature will also help dictate the final look and flavor of each meal. But no matter how the final plate looks, the meal will be worthy of 5-stars: New York City-based chef PJ Calapa will work with Dissen to create every meal for participants (from breakfast to dinner) while Staglin Family Vineyards will provide wine pairings.
Dissen notes that there is room for getting creative based on availability if foraging does happen over the weekend: Finding nettles might result in the inclusion of nettle broth; if they spot young wild pine, it might be used to roast the fish guests catch in the river (although he emphasizes that most fish in Montana are catch-and-release and there’s no guarantee the forest surrounding the resort will offer any wild ingredients that will end up in the evening’s meal). Dissen’s knowledge of preservation will also play a part in any foraging that will take place over the weekend.
“[Say we find] spruce pine tips. We’ll pack those in sugar and make mugolio [a type of pine syrup made in Italy, typically with white mugo pine],” he says.
While Dissen has foraged and explored these areas of Montana in the past, he acknowledges that sharing traditional foraging knowledge is always a bit of a mutual learning experience. Some edible plants exist across the contiguous U.S. and are easy to recognize — others are a little more particular, and Dissen will often include local guides in the North Carolina foraging excursions he hosts to better understand each plant he encounters.
Whether guests have the opportunity to forage or not, Dissen expects the weekend to be a wonderful experience for both the chefs and the participants.
“It’s going to be a really fun opportunity to take a lot of what I’m doing here in the Western North Carolina region and be able to bring it out to the west and to the Rockies. I’m excited to learn about different flora and fauna out there, to go fishing and cook and meet some really wonderful people,” Dissen adds.
To sign up for the Fish and Feast weekend at Paws Up resort, make a reservation for the experience at the same time you book your weekend visit. The Fish and Feast weekend costs $2,440 per night for two adults in a Meadow Home. $2,105 per night is the starting rate for tents for two adults. The experience is open to people interested in fly-fishing at any and all experience levels. Spots for the Fish & Feast weekend will fill up fast, as it’s one of the resort’s more popular weekend experiences of the year.