Remembering Jim Harrison on National Cheeseburger Day


The first time I met Jim Harrison was at a dinner he hosted with the painter Russell Chatham at Russell's restaurant, Chatham’s in Livingston, Montana. Guy De la Valdene, a fellow author, falconer, and friend was there doing research for a new book on falconry.  He and a few friends decided to gather and discuss. The dinner was the first rendezvous of our two-day stay. In addition to those mentioned above, numerous family members joined us, as well as famous chef and Jim’s good friend, Mario Batali.

As a big fan of Jim’s, I was pretty excited about the dinner. Before Dan and I entered the restaurant bar, Dan took me by the shoulders and said, “Now honey, I know you’re a good little eater and a good little drinker, but pace yourself - these people are professionals.” I ordered a vodka martini up, with olives. Jim greeted me warmly. Between his kindness and the martini, I was soon at ease.

After a drink or two, (I forget) we moved into a private dinning room. In the center of this heavy wood and marble clad room was a long, linen laid table, set with crystal and china. The wine started to pour in a glug-glug-glug fashion into ginormous goblets. The 12-course tasting menu began and I was moved around the table to insure I had the chance to visit with all the bigwigs.

The tiny courses came and went, the glug, glug, glug continued, and the cigar and cigarette smoke settled in the air like a cloud that looked like it could produce rain at any minute.  This was a bonafide food, drink, and smoking orgy.

By the 6th course I was back in my original seat. It was soup and it was our first hot food of the evening. I leaned forward to take in the soup's aroma, but when I leaned back up, everyone around me appeared to be moving. Oh no, I thought. Feeling that things could quickly go wrong and not wanting my nose to end up in my soup, I excused myself and thanked our hosts. As I said my final good-bye, a dusty magnum of Rothschild, Chateau Lafite was being cracked open. Damn, I said to myself.

When Dan got to the room, I apologized for leaving early, and he said he understood and that he thought he might not have been far behind me. I told him I could have hung in there if I just could have had a cheeseburger.

The next night we gathered at Jim and Linda’s, where Mario Batali and I were to prepare dinner. I had created the menu and felt confident in it and in my ability, but I was a little nervous to cook with Mario. When we arrived I was relieved to learn that he had caught an early flight back east.

As I prepared our meal, Jim, Guy, and Dan sat at a small, round table in the middle of the kitchen drinking whisky from short, jelly jars. Their conversation started with a critique of the meal from the night before. Many of Jim’s comments were thoughts that I had, but when he said, “By the end of the night all I wanted was a cheeseburger!” I knew we would be fast friends.

I had the pleasure of being in Jim’s company many other times since that evening and most always there was food enjoyed. Thanks for the memories Jim. You made indulging in a cheeseburger forever more enjoyable!

Recipe: Buffalo Bacon Cheeseburgers

Buffalo Cheeseburger
Ingredients: (makes 6 to 8)

2 - pounds Wild Idea Ground Buffalo
2 - tablespoons olive oil

½ - teaspoon mustard

1 - teaspoon ketchup

1 - teaspoon thyme

1 - teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 - teaspoon salt & pepper

6 to 8 - ounces Irish cheddar cheese

6 to 8 - ounces Wild Idea Buffalo Bacon or Pancetta, pan fried

1 - onion, sliced and sautéed lightly

6 to 8 - hamburger buns or sour dough bread, lightly toasted

  • Mix all spice ingredients, but Buffalo into paste. 

  • Add ground Buffalo and mix thoroughly together with hands. 

  • Pat into 6 or 8 patties, about 1” thick. 

  • Grill buffalo burgers over high hot gas heat. Grill with lid closed for 2 minutes each side. Sprinkle cooked burgers with a pinch of finishing salt. 

  • Top burgers with cheese slices and grill with lid shut for one more minute. 

  • Remove burgers from the grill and allow them to rest for a couple of minutes.
  • Place burgers on bun and op with pan-fried bacon or pancetta, and lightly sautéed onions.

Wine Pairing: Chateau de Pez Saint Estephe 2002, Medoc Region, France


  • Posted on by Luann Fortenbery

    I have been a reader of Jim Harrison for 25 years and will miss looking for a “new Jim Harrison”. I have read Dan’s “Buffalo for the Broken Heart” and felt the passion he passed on. Will enjoy a cheeseburger for you both!

  • Posted on by Bob Watland

    Great food and great story. Love those Buffalo Burgers :-)

  • Posted on by Doug Williams

    Terrific story Jill! I enjoyed breakfast in a diner in Patagonia yesterday and I assure you that Jim is remembered in that cool little town. It is always fun to hear and learn more about two of my favorite topics: Jim Harrison and Wild Ideas Buffalo Co. Thanks for sharing that story. Doug.

  • Posted on by Lynn Kelly

    ‘Professional’ drink too much too sometimes!! Great story Jill.

  • Posted on by John R

    Butterflies in the stomach, walking on egg shells, its all part of being human. The blessing is when ones knowledge and skill come into play. The smiles results from happy tummies at the end of dinner, that is the prize. Sharing your story is supportive to those who are new to such occasions.
    Thank you
    John R

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