Jackson Hole, WYO.
Scott Sampson's mother steered him right. "I was a Las Vegas teenager trying to decide what to do with my life," he recalls. "My mom said 'do what makes you happy.' The only thing I could think of was cooking."
The aspiring chef went from carving "steamship rounds" from 75-pound roasts at the Silver Slipper Casino buffet line to prestigious positions at the Desert Inn and the Riviera. But "quantity cooking" in banquet kitchens for 5,000 diners a night was not Sampson's career goal. "I was ready to make a break from hotels and do something more personally rewarding," he says.
Enter Ken Fredrickson, a former Vegas sommelier who was opening a progressive restaurant-Terroir-in Jackson Hole. "Ken had urged me to join him for some time," Sampson says. "I flew up, saw the restaurant, the town-and fell in love."
That was two years ago. Today, Terroir is at the top of Jackson's booming dining scene. Sampson, 39, chef de cuisine, has found his niche in the restaurant's exhibition kitchen, where he turns out hearty bistro-style dishes for a small but enthusiastic crowd. The setting honors its name, which means "of the earth," incorporating indigenous materials and colors into its décor. The exterior is rusted, corrugated steel. Inside, ochre-colored walls are topped by a curved sisal and wire-mesh ceiling. A fossilized rock counter (the best seat in the house) fronts the kitchen. The wine collection anchors the room.
The food? Scrumptious escargot, served with butter, shallots, white wine and a flaky puff pastry topping. Seared rack of lamb atop mounds of white cheddar-potato gratin. Classic osso bucco braised with aromatic veggies until the meat falls off the bone. And a signature fish stew overflowing with mussels, snapper, prawns and calamari.
As for cooking in a bucking-bronco locale? "Jackson has an impressive clientele," he says. "They understand wine and food. It makes our job easy." And enjoyable.