Sustainable Cuisine at Yellowstone National Park

Road Journals Blog—When I did interviews for my story for VIA about sustainable cuisine in Montana and Wyoming, I was blown away by the effort made by Lu Harlow, director of food and beverages in Yellowstone National Park, to source local food.

Lu is a walking Montana/Wyoming localvore's encyclopedia. Because Yellowstone cranks out as many as 22,000 plates of food a day, she’s had to define “local” as an area within 500 miles. She’s been at her job since 1995, and made her first sustainable-food purchase in 2001, after a Montana ranching family approached her about buying their grass-fed beef.

salmon dish at Yellowstone National Park

Dine on salmon with rice and vegetables in Yellowstone. | Xanterra Parks & Resorts

“We looked at where we lived, and a lot of farms and ranches were having a tough time making it,” she said. “We appreciate their lifestyle and how hard they work, and we wanted to try to help them."

Ten years later, Harlow and her team help a lot of local folks. In 2010, 32.2 percent of all of Yellowstone's food and alcohol purchases met the sustainability criteria of Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the concessionaire for Yellowstone and a number of other national parks.

Harlow and her staff exhaustively researched local, sustainable producers, and since word got out that they were open to the notion, she said, “a lot of people approach us." She’s kept on her toes by changing tastes and demographics.

"You can't get stuck in a rut,” she said, “or you're not going to be successful."

In my VIA story, I detailed a number of menu items that Harlow and her team have created for Yellowstone’s winter menus, but space consideration forced me to leave some out. Here are a few more (with most of the ingredients locally sourced):

Snow Lodge’s Bison Tenderloin

Grilled farm-raised bison with rosemary cabernet sauvignon sauce, fried shallots, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and seasonal vegetables (4 oz. $22.95; 8 oz. $29.95). They also serve mixed game sliders, consisting of two-ounce bison, antelope and elk mini-burgers, romaine lettuce, fresh tomato and onion ($12.95)

Mammoth Hot Springs’s Elk Burger

A half-pound farm-raised elk burger, romaine lettuce, tomato and onion served on a grilled parmesan black pepper roll. (With fries, baked beans or side salad, $12.95.)

Mammoth Hot Springs’s Bison Top Sirloin

Eight-ounce farm-raised bison with roasted garlic and herb compound butter served with buttemilk mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables ($21.95).

Mammoth Hot Springs’s Italian Style Bison Ravioli

Marinara sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese ($10.95/$16.95)

Mammoth Hot Springs’s Salmon Sandwich

Cold-smoked wild Alaska salmon, wasabi mayonnaise, crispy natural applewood-smoked bacon, fresh tomato and lettuce stacked on three pieces of toasted wheat Montana cracked nine-grain bead. The salmon comes from a fishery that has been independently certified to the Marine Stewardship Council's standard for a well-managed and sustainable fishery. (With side salad; $11.95)

They also pour some excellent microbrews: Snake River Pale Ale from Snake River Brewing Company in Jackson, Wyo.; Teton Ale and Bitch Creek ESB from Grand Teton Brewing Company in Victor, Idaho; Bent Nail IPA from Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company in Red Lodge, Mont., and Moose Drool from Big Sky Brewing Co. in Missoula.

This blog post was first published in December 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.