Under the Light of the Moon
Any seasoned chef will tell you about the harrowing physical toll that working a restaurant can take: the withering heat, sliced fingers, and constant pressure to perform. Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Bill Buford’s Heat are just two of a whole genre of books that have thoroughly documented the mostly male machismo of the modern kitchen. But Lisa Whisnant, the soft-spoken chef and owner of Blue Moon Yurt in McCall, would likely silence those knife-wielding bad boys with a simple description of what she must do every day before she even gets to her kitchen.
Whisnant, an experienced river guide, was already used to cooking in extreme locations, but having to ferry in everything for a four-course meal by snowshoe or ski is a different story. Every day they’re open, Whisnant and her crew pull provision-laden sleds from the Ponderosa State Park parking lot, just outside of McCall, through a mile’s worth of towering pines to their yurt-turned-winter-restaurant. Even water, about 28 gallons worth, is transported nightly for cooking, drinking, and washing dishes.
Dinner guests have it easier: They meet at that same parking lot, snowshoes at the ready and start their trek just as the sun begins to set. But it’s an easy hike with nothing much to carry but a bottle or two of wine (if they choose), and as the day fades, torches cast golden pools of light along the enchanting length of trail.
While Blue Moon has been serving dinners for the last 17 years, it wasn’t always the smooth-running operation it is today. After years of patching together odd jobs here and there to manage her winter life, Whisnant began dreaming about having her own setup.
Tired of working up to three jobs in any given winter, it was time for a change.
Coincidentally, the concession at the Ponderosa State Park became available. With an avocado green Volkswagon bus and a Toyota pickup as collateral, along with partner Bruce Rumbaugh, and Whisnant submitted an application to the Parks department. They won the contract, with one hitch: there actually wasn’t a structure to house the restaurant. But, as often happens in small towns, someone who knew someone who knew someone told Whisnant about an unused yurt that happened to be for sale. Rumbaugh and Whisnant carted the structure in, assembled it, and the Blue Moon Yurt was born.
Amid a hodgepodge of chairs, cushions, and a furious wood stove, arriving diners peel off layers and greet one another, going from table to table, sharing wine bottles brought from home. “Food ignites that spark among people,” Whisnant says as she and her crew ready themselves in the kitchen. Whisnant thinks of herself as a sort of “mix master, [taking] something over here, something over there, and collid[ing] them together.”
That night the nervy chef was in an Asian fusion mood: the fried calamari was spicy, gingery, lemony, and sweet, with a hint of tamari in the sauce. The uniquely named “Galloping Horses” appetizer—make-your-own tiny lettuce wraps encasing a spicy pork concoction—was satisfyingly crunchy. The soup—a warm mixture of galanga root and coconut— was dubbed by Whisnant as “love in a bowl.”
In the summer Whisnant can be found navigating the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers with Canyon River Company. During the very narrow window between rafting and yurt dinners, the chef travels—exploring culinary traditions around the world. From Fiji to Alaska, Whisnant soaks up as much of the exotic and the flavorful as she can. She says those travels influence her dreams; a plate can become a palette with each color transforming into an ingredient. She confesses that on a recent night, she dreamt of a black plate dotted with red and green flakes. She describes almost mystically how she “surrenders to the colors and matching those colors to flavors on the plate.” The result? A roasted Cornish game hen with pomegranate seeds and basil.
Blue Moon Outfitters
PO Box 4281, McCall, ID 83638 • 208.634.3111
Blue Moon is open from early December until March, serving dinner from Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are a must.