By: Teresa Farney
Keith Wells, owner of Three Quarter Circles Cattle Co., is much more comfortable riding his horse on the open plains than talking about himself. And preparing outdoor dinners over an open wood fire is more than just a passion. It’s his business.
Wells will load his refurbished, historical chuckwagon — mounted on a truck, rather than hitched to horses — and bring all the ingredients for a gourmet cowboy dinner “from fire to table” right to your home or business.
“It’s comfort food cooked in ash and dirt with a little style,” he said.
“In the old days of cattle drives”, he says, “chuckwagon cooks would dig a hole to build a fire for cooking food in cast-iron pots. Since I bring my chuckwagon to people’s homes, most don’t want you to dig a hole in their yard.”
He built a 400-pound, heavy-duty steel cooking box, which houses the fires he starts to cook the food — creating an authentic cowboy experience with a modern-day flair. His menus might include biscuits baked in a cast-iron kettle. Or he might fill ramekins with whipped egg whites, cream and sugar to make soufflés in a heavy pan. Rocky Mountain trout with sweet potato and goat cheese in cast iron is another dish listed on his website as a menu item.
“It’s all about the wood and the fire, whether you’re cooking biscuits or a cowboy rib-eye steak,” he said. “When food is cooked on a gas grill, it tastes like propane.”
The native Texan was inspired to try his hand at cooking when he was a kid, after watching Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet.
His mother and sister “were always on a diet, and there was never any good food in the refrigerator,” he wrote on his website. He spent a lot of time alone watching television and latched on to Kerr’s show. “He was funny, knew how to cook, drank wine and was always entertaining an audience full of women. I thought, ‘I can do that!’”
Couple that with learning to love cooking over wood fires as a Boy Scout, and a passion was born. He wound up in an all-French kitchen at a Four Seasons hotel, learning to make upscale eats Escoffier-style.
His cooking career took a 22-year detour while he served in the Marine Corps. After that, he moved to Colorado and settled into the ranching lifestyle and polished his chuckwagon cooking skills.
“I’m not a chef,” he said modestly. “Just a good cook who likes to feed people.”
The food he chooses for his dinners is local, “nothing from more than a 200-mile radius.” He’s a big fan of Callicrate beef, which he gets from Ranch Food Direct.
“You can’t have a good steak without good meat,” he said. “Knowing where your food comes from is a priority to me.”
All menus are custom-designed for the occasion, and Wells said he likes to keep groups at 12 to 20 people. Visit threequartercircles.com for more information.