Backcountry catering

Jeff Donaldson of Backcountry Catering. (Courtesy photo)

Backcountry Catering’s Jeff Donaldson and Stefanie Moscufo have added a new dimension to their business with the addition of a custom-made mobile kitchen that includes a Chicago Brick Oven wood-fired pizza oven and an Ole Hickory CTO Smoker.

“It means we can go anywhere and do anything,” said private chef and caterer Donaldson of the new acquisition. “It’s great for catering weddings and large events and gives us a lot of flexibility. The pizza oven is something I am particularly excited about. I can use it for pizzas, of course, but I also love cooking anything over wood coals. The flavor the wood provides is like nothing else.”

Donaldson added that the hickory smoker, which sits beside the pizza oven on the trailer’s “back porch,” means he can serve clients some amazing barbecue as well.

Any other bells and whistles?

“We have a TV screen next to the serving window, so we can do slideshows for a bride and groom — for any event really — or display our menu,” explained Donaldson, who lives in Norwood. “Overall, it adds a whole new dimension to what I can do as a caterer and private chef. It also means I can spend a little more time in Norwood on our small farm and prep there, then drive to Telluride with everything ready in the mobile kitchen.”

The acquisition is the latest chapter in the story of Backcountry Catering, which began when Donaldson was a teenager in southern New Jersey.

He landed a job in the kitchen of a local country club, where the head chef took him under his wing.

“My chef became like another big brother to me,” Donaldson said. “I wasn’t the best kid in high school, and he helped me out. He did so much for me, he even took me to take my driving test in his wife’s car.”

He also taught Donaldson to cook. And while Donaldson may not have liked school, he really liked cooking.

“I knew I didn’t want to be in a classroom, and culinary school is very hands on,” he said.

So, Donaldson headed to Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina, to study culinary arts, which in turn led to an externship at Allred’s restaurant in 2008.

After a little back-and-forth between Telluride and the East Coast, including a stint at James Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurant Husk in Charleston, South Caroina, Donaldson settled here.

In the decade or so that he worked in restaurants locally, Donaldson honed his skills and added to his reputation as a talented up-and-comer, working with many of the local dining scene’s most respected figures, including Brian Batten, Eliza Gavin, Mark Krasic, Ross Martin and Erich Owen.

“I’ve worked with some incredible people,” said Donaldson, adding that what he really yearned for, though, was “direct interaction with the people I’m feeding”.

He explained, “You don’t get much feedback when you are working in a restaurant kitchen, but with private chef events and catering I get to work with my guests on the menu and hear their feedback on the food. That interaction is a big part of why I do what I do. I also like making people happy with food.”

Over the years, Donaldson took on more and more work as a caterer and private chef, eventually forming Backcountry Catering.

In 2019, One to One Mentoring Executive Director Tara Kelley invited him to take part in the Top Chef cooking competition, part of the nonprofit’s summer fundraiser, Top Chef & Taste of Telluride.

Event newbie Donaldson, working with friend and fellow chef Batten, finished first, a profile-raising win that energized his nascent business, allowing Donaldson to devote himself full time to catering and working as a private chef.

With Backcountry Catering, Donaldson said he keeps his focus on what his clients want and avoids pigeon-holing himself with one type of cuisine or style.

“I enjoy making menus specific for every party or event and try to make it exactly what the client is looking for,” he said. “I definitely do a wide range of food, from high-end fine dining to top-notch barbecue. Whatever the client wants, I try to go above and beyond, but still give them exactly what they are looking for.”

Donaldson pointed to his client-centric ethos, as well as the support — logistical and personal — that he gets from girlfriend and business partner Moscufo, as keys to the catering company’s success.

For her part, One to One Mentoring’s Kelley said she is excited to see Donaldson’s next steps with the mobile kitchen, which she described as “just incredible”.

She added, “Jeff is such a nice, humble kid. When he competed in Top Chef, he was up against a past winner (and repeat participant) and one of the most highly trained chefs in town. We eventually had to go to a tiebreaker, which we never have to do. They had to use quail, chipotle sauce, quinoa, goat’s cheese, kiwi, a chili chocolate bar and tequila, and what Jeff made was incredible. The flavor was great, the presentation was great — and he won the event. He was so grateful. He’s a really sweet guy who happens to also be a very talented chef.”

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