Finding a Home in Hospitality

15 Apr 2018

Watsabaugh brings big city restaurant experience back home

Winter 2017/2018

Written By: Kate Hull | Images: David Bowers and Courtesy Gov Carrigan

Seventeen years ago, Cat Watsabaugh—now the food and beverage director at luxury hotel Caldera House—was fresh out of high school and ready to dive into her next chapter. She was set to study engineering at Montana State University and explore beyond her hometown of Jackson. But her plans soon changed.

After attending the Montana college for a time, Watsabaugh took a summer job at the former Billy’s Burgers in Jackson, which was located
inside throwback diner Cadillac Grille. Her time there left her hooked on the hospitality industry. So much so, she decided to give it a shot.

“It was a busy, greasy, sweaty job and much less glamorous than I envisioned, but it was also a ton of fun and something about it clicked,” she says. “I loved the pace. I loved the interaction. I loved seeing people enjoy a meal. It really struck a chord with me.”

Watsabaugh took a leap of faith. Cooking had always been a hobby of hers. Her mother was a talented home cook and the pair tested recipes together often. After that summer, Watsabaugh was gunning to learn more about the industry, so she decided not go back to Montana and instead give hospitality a try. Opportunity soon knocked in the form of the fine dining hub Old Yellowstone Garage, which at the time was located on Center Street in downtown Jackson.

“I was hungry to learn and they were happy to be a platform for me,” she says.

By working as a line cook, taking a crash course in pastry, and working the front-of-the-house with diners, Watsabaugh experienced just what it takes to run a fine dining restaurant from every angle. Her decision to give it a try had been solidified. Next, she wanted to learn even more.

"I was hungry for something I could really sink my teeth into." Cate Watsabaugh

She enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

To break up her busy schedule and earn income, she took a job as a waitress at the former New York City staple Pastis. Watsabaugh found her niche in the front-of-the-house.

The nuances of making a restaurant function like a well-oiled machine, while providing guests a top-notch experience, resonated. A few years later, she took a job with internationally-renowned French chef Daniel Boulud as one of his first female service directors—also called maitre d’—which was a traditionally male-dominated role.

After, she shifted her career and brought her fine-dining training and restaurant management skills to help open a new location of bakery franchise Le Pain Quotidien.

But after eight years, the New York City hustle made her yearn for the mountains. Watsabaugh returned to Jackson, which had become a culinary hotspot with a plethora of top-tiered restaurants and chefs.

“I missed my family and having a work-life balance,” she says. “And the skiing and fresh air started calling me back.”

In early 2015, she heard about a new development going in at Teton Village bringing a luxury dining experience to hotel guests and residents.

“It had the makings of something really dazzling,” she says. “I was hungry for something I could really sink my teeth into.”

And that she did. Inside Caldera House at the new Old Yellowstone Garage, Cate and her team bring a level of service and dining that mirrors the sophistication of her time in New York but with that special Jackson Hole feel.

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