To maintain footing among the upper ranks of the region’s top dining establishments, Matt Carlin knew it was time to ditch some old concepts at Latitude 48 Bistro in Whitefish, where he works as the general manager, and do something fresh.
Reboot, revitalize, reset. The resort town’s signature eatery didn’t need a full makeover by any means, but Carlin was looking for the perfect addition to reanimate the menu and rebuild the talented brigade de cuisine manning the restaurant’s gleaming open kitchen.
“We needed a change. We lost our previous chef and there was a short period when we didn’t have a chef, so I was running the kitchen,” Carlin said. “And I am by no means a chef. Our menu was never bad. We just needed a change.”
Enter Melissa Mangold, the culinary maven who for the past 15 years helmed the kitchen at the Belton Chalet before recently coming on board as Latitude’s executive chef, rebuilding the menu with concepts from across the globe and taking over one of the most vaunted restaurants around.
“I didn’t even have to interview her,” Carlin said. “I knew the caliber of chef she is by reputation.”
Restaurants regularly undergo rebrands and renovations to keep up with the break-neck pace of foodie trends, and by overhauling the menu at Latitude while hanging on to some old hits, Mangold simply sharpened the edges of an eatery that needs no introduction to local foodies.
Latitude has traditionally billed its menu as Mediterranean, with an eclectic offering of small plates and traditional fare, like handmade pastas, fresh seafood, wood-fired pizzas, and steaks.
Although Mangold isn’t abandoning the old menu entirely, she’s adding a panoply of bold new flavors from across the globe as she constructs dishes inspired by Asian and South American cuisine.
“I was able to go in a lot of different directions without any constraints or boundaries,” she said. “We were able to go into South America and Mexico and Asia, which is a lot of fun. I got to play more.”
Mangold designed the menu in such a way that certain plates better complement others, while Joy Nelson reshaped the international wine list to pair with the new features, a task she’ll take on again in the spring.
“I tried to bring in some more variety, both in flavors and price points,” Nelson said.
When Mangold debuted her menu to employees and a handful of Latitude regulars, she served emu tartare; Bao buns stuffed with duck confit, pickled ginger, daikon carrot, and caramelized Thai chili; Vietnamese seafood crepes; fried cauliflower; and other recent additions.
With a culinary background that began at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mangold cooked her way through school before moving to Koln, Germany, working and training under the youngest master chef in Europe at the time. After a year, she returned the states, climbing her way up the pecking order to become executive chef at a high-end catering company before moving to Montana.
After two weeks, she landed a gig as sous chef at the Belton Chalet in West Glacier, and fell in love.
“I found a home at the Belton and just kind of stayed there,” she said.
Mangold said she hones her foodie chops by obsessively studying trade magazines and corresponding with friends from all over the glob to keep apprised of what’s happening in all corners of the culinary world.
“When you move somewhere like Montana you have to constantly pay attention to what’s happening outside the state because it can be so meat-and-potatoes here,” she said. “In Whitefish, we have tourists coming from sophisticated markets like Chicago and Los Angeles, and they don’t expect to find this level in Montana. So when they do experience it, they get excited.”
Working with local providers to procure her beef, seafood and produce, Mangold applies constituent culinary techniques from all over the world, but takes care to add a dash of flair from the Treasure State.
“I try to take those elements and put a Montana spin on it and offer locally raised emu and bison on the menu,” she said.
For more information, visit latitude48bistro.com.