Cowboy chef

Bend, Oregon's Gavin McMichael ropes in praise for his "new ranch cuisine

A chef from Texas, a restaurant called Blacksmith, the edge of downtown Bend in Oregon's ranch country: Of course the menu includes meat loaf and pan-fried trout. But Gavin McMichael's meat loaf is less like Mom's and more like a French forcemeat, and his trout comes with "cowboyed up" caponata and a mound of barley simmered in stout until it resembles a dark, chewy, slightly sweet risotto.

McMichael left Texas, went to culinary school, and cooked with chefs from Colorado to Cannes before opening his own restaurant in Bend in 2003. (He first visited Bend on a ski trip in the winter of 2001 and returned three weeks later to stay: "I thought, This is like getting in on the ground floor of Aspen or Boulder.") That's when he began to hone what he now calls "new ranch cuisine," a sophisticated update of Southwestern cowboy cooking―itself an amalgam of American standards and Native American and Mexican influences.

"As chuckwagon cooks traveled on cattle drives, they'd pick up on these ingredients and create these kinds of regional cuisines," McMichael explains.

With his formal training, forgive him the stray spoonful of beurre blanc or crème fraîche―but what comes out of the kitchen is always a surprise. And his blending of New World cuisines with Old World techniques has drawn praise from critics nationwide.

"It's super-fun," McMichael gushes, looking up from deconstructing a pineapple upside-down cake. "It's like being in the entertainment business and you've got a hit on your hands." ―Bonnie Henderson

INFO: The Blacksmith Restaurant ($$$; dinner daily; 211 N.W. Greenwood Ave., Bend, OR; www.theblacksmithrestaurant.com or 541/318-0588)