From Prairie Garden to Gourmet Table
Megan Yutesler grew up in Cairo, Nebraska, went to college in Omaha, moved to North Carolina on a whim and ended up apprenticing to be a chef there. After weathering a couple of hurricanes, she and her husband decided when they started a family they would move back to Nebraska, which they did.
Why are you a chef?
I’ve always been a creative person and have always loved to cook. When I met the chef I apprenticed under, I realized for the first time I could combine the two. So, I get to be creative every day and the palette is digestible — so I always have a clean canvas to work with!
You use as much as you can from your own prairie garden while preparing your meals. How does this influence you as a chef?
Because my dad grew up on a farm and survived off of the garden and livestock, I already had an appreciation for “growing your own.” My mom used to prepare all our food preservative free when I was growing up because I was a hyperactive child and she didn’t want to medicate me (and this worked). She would get milk from a local dairy and of course we would eat out of the garden.
"I get to be creative every day and the palette is digestible — so I always have a clean canvas to work with!"
When I moved out on my own, having a garden was second nature. I take a great deal of pride in what I grow though, and it makes me feel so good to be able to share that in my meals. When I plant I think about the dishes I’ll create when they come into season and the possibilities are endless. I like that nothing will go to waste, and I especially appreciate that I can tell whoever is eating it how it was raised. As far as perspective goes, I believe I have an even greater appreciation for the food I raise. I’m especially careful about how it’s used so that I don’t waste a bite.
How does the Grand Island and Nebraska landscape inspire your dishes?
Again, I use local everything whenever I can. If I don’t raise it I go to the farmer’s market in the summer to get it. I preserve much of my garden by canning as well. This area is just bursting with endless possibilities where food is concerned. From beef, pork and poultry to wild Morel mushrooms (which are usually here only one week out of the year) to my own garden, I just love what I can do here with the food that is available.
"This area is just bursting with endless possibilities where food is concerned."
What is your favorite meal to prepare?
That’s a hard question. I have so many. I love making fresh pasta because it takes all day and is very therapeutic. However, I enjoy using anything from my garden. Once a year I prepare a batch of Eggplant Caponata, which I can for the year, completely from the garden. I would say my most popular dishes are beef wellington and sherry marinated chicken; I enjoy the process of making both. Honestly, I believe whatever I am feeling at the time of preparation is also ingested. I put myself in a creative, loving place before I prepare the meal so that all my clients just feel the enormous amount of love I have for what I do and for what they are eating.
What do you like about Moonlight Ridge Vineyard as a place to serve your meals?
I love the intimate, quiet atmosphere combine with being able to enjoy a nice glass of wine (or three) with the meal. It’s just so beautifully romantic overlooking the vineyard. So often when we dine we feel limited with the amount of time we are allowed to sit and enjoy our food and surroundings. When my guests come to enjoy a four course meal at Moonlight Ridge they have the time to sit and enjoy each course. I just love the energy there. Karen and Daren Placke are amazing people and have built a beautiful venue for small gatherings like my meals as well as a gorgeous pavilion for weddings behind the tasting room.
What are a couple of your favorite things about Grand Island?
I love that we are at the center of it all. Travel distance to Grand Island for most people around here is short and there is so much to offer in Grand Island. I love that on a Sunday we can go to church and have a whole day of possibilities in Grand Island. Whether it’s feeding the ducks and geese, or fishing, or having lunch or shopping, we always have something to do.
Grand Island Characters