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Montana Master Chefs

Winning Chef Kelly Liken
Winning Chef Kelly Liken
Judith Hannemann, The Midnight Baker

An exciting time was to be had at this year's 8th Annual Montana Master Chef's Event that was held at Paws Up Resort in Greenough, Montana this past weekend.

The participants were Kelly Liken, chef and restauranteur from Colorado, Brooke Williamson, chef and restauranteur from California, and returning participant, Chris (CJ) Jacobsen also from California. The event was emceed by John and Drew who are the marketing team for Paws Up.

Each chef was presented with a “mystery basket” to prepare a course and the rules were they had to use every ingredient in the basket plus anything in the supplied pantry. The pantry consisted of basic ingredients such as stocks, seasonings and assorted vegetables. The chefs also had to prepare and plate each dish in the allotted time given.

First up was an appetizer. The mystery ingredients included snails, eggs, cheddar cheese powder and sprouted garlic. Kelly's dish was a sauteed escargot appetizer, Brooke prepared a fresh salad and CJ made a rustic omelette.

Next up was an entree. Three lucky guests were chosen from the audience to act as “sous chefs” for each participating chef. The main ingredient in this round was dried NY strip steak. Winner of this round was Kelly with a delightful pan-seared NY strip with a sweet date sauce accompanied by a yellow wax bean succotash. Kelly prepared the NY strip in a cast iron pan, saying it was the only way to make great NY strip.

One of the items in the entree mystery basket was nasturtium flowers. Kelly remarked that not only does she love to use nasturtiums as a garnish, but that she also “loves the peppery accent it imparts to anything it's served with.”

The last and final round was the preparation of a dessert using foods found in vending machines, which included candy bars, potato chips and various juices and fruits.

Also adding to the fun, an additional dish from each round was prepared to be auctioned to the highest-bidding guest. Proceeds of the auction were to benefit the Missoula Food Bank The bidding became a fierce competition and one of chef CJ's creations pulled in $1000. Resort owner Nadine also announced that all winning bids would be matched by the resort. As a result of the generosity of the winning bidders and Paws Up Resort, $6100 was raised for the food bank.

The judges went down to the wire deciding on the winner. In fact, it was a tie and there was a bonus tie-breaker round. When everything was tallied, the winner was Kelly Liken, who took home the coveted trophy.