In Montana, where the horizon often rests gently against the tips of the Rocky Mountains, a baker is taking country cooking to new heights with recipes curated to satisfy the high altitude. Christine Lugo-Yergensen, owner of Sweet Buns Catering, moved to Montana from Tampa, Florida, after her husband Jake received an offer to be an executive pastry chef at the Yellowstone Club.
When she noticed her chocolate chip cookies were falling apart, Lugo-Yergensen modified and retested the recipe with the help of her husband and the very limited literature she found on high-altitude baking tips. However, she wasn’t as simple as following that special high-altitude section on the back of a Pillsbury pie box.
Lugo-Yergensen described that he is not a chemist but knows enough about hydration, elevation and cooking with altitude change to make a difference. “There is a significant change in elevation (from Florida to Montana),” he said. “Here in Big Sky, the air is very dry and your bread needs extra hydration, whereas in Florida it needs the opposite.”
Finally, after countless rounds of trial and error, Lugo-Yergensen found a way to make her cookies as delicious as they had been in Florida, a signature recipe that quickly became her town’s favorite for chip cookies. of chocolate. Following this success, she applied this new knowledge to other baked goods, such as laminated doughs and doughnuts. Anyone who’s tried to bake a macaron knows how finicky they can be, but Lugo-Yergensen’s recipes thrive despite Big Sky’s elevation, which ranges from 6,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level, according to Altitude Guide.
building a business
After cooking for nearly every event at The Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Lugo-Yergensen was involved in a particularly large catering event that gave her the seed money she needed to officially start Sweet Buns Catering, which opened in 2019.
Despite the pandemic, the restaurant business thrived. “We were busy because it was all takeout,” he said.
Lugo-Yergensen continued to build on her success, holding a regular booth at the local farmers’ market for nearly three years before opening her own traditional bakery in Big Sky Town Center in March.
In June, she was voted Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year, an award given by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. “I am about 33 years old, three children and two puppies that came from Florida,” Lugo-Yergensen said. “It’s kind of crazy, but it comes from hard work and trying to be different and trying to get better.”
A love of spice
Lugo-Yergensen describes Big Sky as a quiet and relaxing place with many family-oriented events. It’s one of those places where everyone knows everyone, a long way from his birthplace in Brooklyn or the Florida suburbs where he grew up.
With a father from the Dominican Republic and a mother from Panama, Lugo-Yergensen knows her flavor profile is unlike anything Big Sky is used to. She often teases that she tends to go overseas in food. For her Días de los Muertos party, her family showcased the diverse tastes of all of Latin America rather than just focusing on Mexico.
However, Lugo-Yergensen’s creativity in the kitchen does not stem from her heritage or family alone. In 2009, she earned a certificate in baking and pastry arts from the Tampa Art Institute. From there, he spent several years working in kitchens in New York City, Los Angeles, Florida, and the Bahamas, including big names in the industry like Todd English’s Olives at the W Hotel and Quattro Gastronomia Italiana in New York City. York.
After a lifetime of traveling cooking, the mother of three took a few years off to raise her twin daughters, Ava and Vivienne, and her son, Leif. And then she came Montana. This time, Lugo-Yergensen knew that she wanted to get out of the kitchen and work on the “front of house” as well.
The future is big (heaven)
Today, the owner of the bakery spends her days with her family. During especially busy seasons, her children, her husband, and even her parents will help her in the kitchen. Lugo-Yergensen also welcomes children into the community to learn culinary techniques behind the scenes, especially the young women.
“We’re starting our own culinary foundation here at Big Sky so all the young girls who want to learn to be a pastry chef will have a good idea of what it’s really like,” she said. “It’s hard for any woman in a kitchen to even tell a man ‘no, that’s how it’s done,’ so I want them to be prepared and oriented.”
In the future, Lugo-Yergensen hopes to publish a book about her family’s recipes and proven techniques for high-altitude baking, not only to add to the literature on this craft, but also to give those who follow in her footsteps a useful resource to refer to. when the going gets tough.
Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mom. She writes about diversity, equity, and sustainable travel for publications like AAA and The Independent. As Secretary of the central chapter of the Society of Travel Writers, she pushes to prioritize trips that have an ecotourism angle or a people-first approach. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights and a daily dose of chocolate..