We weren’t messing around when we said some of Montana’s top chefs will be judging your Craft Kitchen entries. This week, five of Montana’s most celebrated culinary artists gathered to taste your submissions. Read on to learn more about the pros behind the picks.
Our Philipsburg fans are certainly aware of the world-renowned Ranch at Rock Creek we’re lucky to call a neighbor. The Ranch was the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch, and one of its World’s Best Hotel Bars. We like to think that’s in some part due to their top-notch local beer selection, best enjoyed saddled up to their Silver Dollar Saloon bar—and we mean that quite literally.
At the Ranch at Rock Creek, Executive Chef Josh Drage has created what Forbes calls a locavore’s paradise, where he marries “mountain tradition with modern palate” in designing his daily menus.
Growing up in a small cabin in Anchorage, Alaska, Drage began cooking with his mother at 12 years old. He eventually pursued a career in the culinary industry and completed his formal training at Scottsdale Culinary Institute. From there he gained experience at restaurants in the West before finding his way to the Ranch at Rock Creek the year of its inception.
Chef Sunny Jin's formative cooking skills developed at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, where he won the coveted Grand Toque Award as the top culinary student. Since then he has cooked for some of the world's finest restaurants—Napa Valley’s French Laundry, Catalonia’s El Bulli, and Australia’s Tetsuya’s. Jin says he really earned his cooking chops at French Laundry, where he spent three years working under renowned chefs Thomas Keller and Corey Lee, creating new menus every day.
As the executive chef at the Resort at Paws Up, Jin serves "rustic ranch cuisine" and favors local ingredients—from huckleberries, cherries, and wild chamomile to elk, bison, and trout. (We hear the huckleberry pancakes are something else. Yum.)
Chef Caroline Doern's passion for food spans 17 years, seven of which were spent running a personal chef and catering company. That company led to opportunities to craft dining experiences throughout the country, and also to work with Steve Kuntz, with whom she would eventually open Feast Bistro in Bozeman.
At Feast, sharing exceptional cuisine and inviting guests to participate in an epicurean dining experience is a driving force. Proudly serving sustainable seafood and locally sourced meats and produce, Doern says she considers Feast a platform to “share her passion for simply prepared and superbly executed cuisine.”
In 2018, USA Today named Doern the best female chef in Montana.
Mike Elliott has been making beer professionally since 2007. He enrolled at Oregon State University in 2002, hoping to become an engineer, but advanced calculus convinced him to seek an alternate career path. Luckily, OSU offers a degree in Brewing Science through the Food Science and Technology department, and Mike found the combination of science, art, and community a perfect fit.
Mike learned to cook in college as a line cook in a busy pub on the edge of campus, and credits his hard-bitten Chicago-born boss with instilling a sense of confidence and purpose in his kitchen endeavors and the rest of his work. While he doesn't consider himself a "foodie," Mike appreciates quality, straightforward food prepared with care and conscience. He has been known to weep openly over good steak.
After brewing in Portland and Missoula, Mike was fortunate to meet the owners of Philipsburg Brewing Company just as they were beginning their search for a brewer to get their project up and running. In just a few months the downtown brewery went from an empty shell of a building to a vibrant and beautiful craft brewery and tasting room. The most striking feature of the original brewery is the intimacy beer drinkers have with the brewing process, people, and equipment. The ability for the brewers and drinkers to interact on a personal level makes both working and imbibing at Philipsburg Brewing a memorable experience.
Beer and food go hand-in-hand for Mike, though usually as a complement to the process rather than an ingredient--why pour that delicious beer into a pot when one could pour it directly into a pot belly? An exciting development of the craft beer movement is pairing good food and quality beer in the same way wine pairings work, and Mike has been continually pleased and surprised at the creativity and thoughtfulness chefs put into making this everyday beverage shine in the kitchen.
Ben started brewing on accident, really. He and a buddy were “sitting around looking for something to do” when Ben decided he wanted to learn how to pickle stuff. Lucky for us, it was March so there was nothing to pickle. That is how Ben attempted his first homebrew. This all happened while Ben was still employed in the financial industry. He has a bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MBA from UNC Chapel Hill. He left finance because his passion for home brewing had reached its maximum potential and he knew he was on to something.
He quit his job and enrolled at Siebel Institute’s Concise Course in Brewing Technology. After his course was complete, he was living out of his car for the better part of 2013 and volunteer brewing at some big name joints. He was at a final round of interviewing with a nationally recognized craft brewery when PBC co-owner Cathy called him up. While recalling the events, Ben said, “I thought, ‘These are just nice people, so I should go see them.'” Ben started with Philipsburg Brewing Company in May 2014 and we couldn’t be more proud to have him.
When Ben isn’t making beer, he’s reading about making beer, talking about making beer, kayaking, cooking, or camping. You can also find him teaching Beer School at the Vault, every first Monday through April.