Meet the Chef: Sam Bassett & Sarah Nangle

A conversation with Sam Basset and Sarah Nangle of Forage Catering on staying local, unique flavors and elevating home cooking

By Micah Drew
Lazy K Ranch Wagyu beef tartare. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Sam Bassett grew up in the restaurant business — his kitchen experience began at his parents’ British Pub, the Cottage Inn, where he met his partner Sarah Nangle. 

The couple left the Flathead Valley for a vagabond culinary lifestyle that carried them through Michelin starred kitchens around the Pacific Northwest, building storied careers training under top chefs. Bassett worked at the prestigious Pok Pok Thai restaurant under James Beard award winner Andy Ricker, and with Andrew Gregory at the Woodsman Tavern in Portland. Nangle trained as a pastry chef at the famed Le Cordon Bleu, learning the “whimsical nature of pastries.”

Nangle’s culinary roots also go back to her childhood — her father’s side of the family owned a string of pizza trailers and worked food stands at carnivals in Pennsylvania. One of her first kitchen jobs was working in a bakery up in Whitefish 

In 2020, Bassett was working at the Belton Chalet and Nangle at Three Forks Grille when they decided to step away from the restaurant environment during the pandemic, and began their own business, Forage Catering, focusing on in-home fine dining. Since its inception, the business has boomed between catering in-home dinner parties, larger weddings and collaborating on a Thai food truck at Big Mountain Ranch. 

Bassett and Nangle sat down with Flathead Living to discuss their newest venture.

Chefs Sam Bassett and Sarah Nangle of Forage Catering on Jan. 26, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Hansen Farms lamb saddle, spring peas, charred alliums, preserved garlic scapes, buttermilk by chefs Sam Bassett and Sarah Nangle of Forage Catering on Jan. 26, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On the change from restaurants to catering…

SB: We have done a bit of catering before, so it was a bit of an easier shift than we expected. Restaurants are tough, especially during a pandemic and we love creating our own schedule now. We like being able to block out a weekend to get out on the river or get out of town.

SN: After working in the restaurant industry, we’ve seen a lot of things that we try to do differently now with Forage. Things like consumption, we try to keep that as small as we can. We try to limit packaging and the travel of goods so we really take care in how we source our products and choose our purveyors. 

On staying local…

SB: Our ethos is staying hyper seasonal, local and supporting our community. We have six different menus throughout the year and they’re dictated by what’s directly in season from our farmers and ranchers at that time. 

SN: Another thing we do is buy whole animals and break them down ourselves, so we can’t serve just the tenderloin to a customer. We get to say, ‘hey, we have a beautiful leg of lamb roast, or an odd cut of beef this week.’ That really forces some people to try something new and it sparks the conversation with the customer and with our ranchers. It helps that people seem to be a lot more adventurous with their tastes these days. 

Roasted butternut squash salad, apples, badger flame beets, radish, creme fraiche, dukkah by chefs Sam Bassett and Sarah Nangle of Forage Catering on Jan. 26, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Hansen Farms lamb saddle and braised lamb neck, carrot, almond date butter, cider poached pear, wilted cabbage by chefs Sam Bassett and Sarah Nangle of Forage Catering on Jan. 26, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On unique flavors…

SN: Manipulating local fruits and vegetables so that it tastes like something else is something we enjoy doing. We’ve gotten some Kohlrabi from local farmers that we’ve used in place of some fruits you see in Thai cooking.

SB: Kohlrabi has the texture of green papayas, which obviously we can’t get in Montana. But the texture is exactly the same and the flavors are super comparable. Just discovering ingredients like that is fun, and our name is forage, so we do a little foraging ourselves and support a lot of good foragers and licensed growers of mushrooms. We got some wild ginger recently, and local turmeric that was really interesting. 

What are some of your inspirations?

SB: I have a French culinary background, but I also implement a lot of Southeast Asian flavors, so combining those is something that is always swimming around in my head. But my main thing is balance — between sweet, savory, salty and spicy — balancing that deliciousness along with the visual component and the texture. I also like to stick to natural cuisine. I’m not using tons of high-tech hydrocolloids or getting foamy and super weird. I draw a lot from Alain Passard. He has three Michelin stars and his cuisine is simple, beautiful and all dictated by his gardens. 

Honeycrisp apple tart, creme patissiere, mimolette cheese, Calvados ice cream by chefs Sam Bassett and Sarah Nangle of Forage Catering on Jan. 26, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

What wisdom can you share to elevate home cooking?

SN: Invest in good salt, a good high quality finishing salt for salads or finishing a steak really takes it to the next level and elevates the dish. In addition, when I’m baking, I always double the salt in every recipe. And remember to season as you go — under-seasoned food is very common. 

SB: The biggest thing people don’t do is taste their food before they serve it. That’s one thing in the restaurant business that is constant, you’re tasting everything all the time. 

How do you sum up your relationship with food?

SB: I’m an absolute nut with food. My mind is just swimming in food; I think about it constantly, I’ll dream about it and wake up with ideas and I have about a thousand cookbooks just for researching ideas. When I’m cooking, I like to try for finesse, keeping things tight, clean and simple. It’s a lot like music — when it gets complicated, washed out and busy, it’s not as good as if you tone it back, leave space and leave things more refined.  But also, I have no problem eating ramen for dinner. 

SN: There’s just a lot of peace in cooking. I think it’s the most fun thing to do with other people. Plus, no one’s going to be angry at you if you put a plate of yummy food in front of them.

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