Magic and science snapped, crackled and popped at the Rex Restaurant in Billings this week. Executive Chefs Nick Steen of Lone Mountain Ranch and David Maplethorpe of Rex Restaurant pulled more than steak out of a hat for the Montana State University (MSU) Billings Foundation kickoff dinner for the 23rd Wine and Food Festival. The Guest Chef Dinner, appropriately named “Modern Montana” used more than just fire to create the feast served to 84 guests from passed appetizers to a five-course meal.
Once again, proprietor Gene Burgad generously closed down the dining portion of his iconic restaurant to start the weeklong fundraising for scholarships. For many years, Maplethorpe has teamed up with a guest chef to cook a multi-course meal, and this year Steen, accompanied by Chef de Cuisine, Josh Cannon and the Lone Mountain Ranch kitchen staff joined in the fun.
In a time when “eating local” is a popular cooking trend for many chefs, “stratospheric” may more aptly describe a meal that began with ‘Foie Gras Mousse. Pickled Pistachio. Pop Rocks. Nasturtium. Brioche.’ Steen said, “You have to cook daily, not seasonally. You can get morels and capitalize on them,” but he obviously embraced all possibilities and availabilities in our vast world. The brioche was flour, sugar, egg, and cream mixed in a canister injected with nitrous oxide. The dough was then squirted into a punctured paper cup, and then microwaved with the result of a soft, ethereal cakelike bread. With the mousse and brioche, heavenly velvet slipped onto the palate only to be enlivened with the explosion of watermelon flavored pop rocks, the peppery notes of the nasturtium leaf, and the savory and sour nuances of the pistachios.
The second course featured Steen’s own cured chorizo with scallops while the third course ‘Braised Pork Cheeks. Charred Leek Ash. Chocolate Lentils. Carrot Chips.’ featured leeks charred on the grill, blended and then pureed with liquid nitrogen to form cold crumbles fanned onto the plate. Steen believed, “The charred leek ash melts onto the plate so who needs demi?” referring to the tradition demi-glace that accompanies meat. The pork flaked off easily with a fork to be enveloped with a chocolate sauce, speckles of lentils finished with the crunch of crispy carrot chips.
Executive Chef Maplethorpe defied gravity with his ‘Sous Vide Tenderloin, Sauce Bordelaise with Asparagus and Pommes Frites.’ Maplethorpe’s fare at the iconic steak and seafood establishment honors traditional cooking so using water to coax meat to doneness breaks the mold. His step into modern cuisine produced meat that dissolved in the mouth.
Finally, the piece de resistance was serving vegetables for dessert. ‘Carrot Cake. Curried Beets. Goat Cheese Mousse. Pickled Raisins. Beet Brittle’ finished the meal. The old fashion carrot cake sung Eastern Indian flavors of curry highlighted with liquid ‘nitrogen-ed’ goat cheese mousse. Then a surprise, as expressed by guest, Dave Coppock, “I have never had beets for dessert” referring to the chunks of red on his plate.
Guest Carol Spielman said the meal “uncorked a sensory experience for our under-indulged palates! It was exciting and absolutely delicious!”
The collaboration of Steen, a young chef who once majored in cell biology and neuroscience with the seasoned Billings chef, Maplethorpe with help from Executive Chef Marlo Spreng of Walkers Grill resulted in a “stratospheric” meal that brought Montana cooking to a new level of snap, crackle and pop.
Deviled Pickled Eggs with Candied Bacon & Jalapeno
Potato Chip, Warm Potato Foam, Shaved Bottarga
Pork Belly, Gochujang Apple Butter, Petite Bok Choy
Kumamoto Oysters on the half shell with Margarita Ice
Foie Gras Mousse. Pickled Pistachio. Pop Rock. Nasturtium. Brioche
Sans Liege Cotes du Coast
Bay Scallops. Cured Chorizo. Charred Lemon Saffron Fluid Gel. Smoked Pine Nuts.
Braised Pork Cheeks. Charred Leek Ash. Chocolate Lentils. Carrot Chips.
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir
Sous Vide Tenderloin. Sauce Bordelaise with Asparagus and Pommes Frites.
Bookwalter Protagonist Red
“Carrot Cake.” Curried Beets. Goat Cheese Mousse. Pickled Raisins. Beet Brittle.
Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico Vino Santo
To learn more about MSU Billings Foundation click here.