We celebrate the return of spring in different ways.
In the Flathead Valley, it’s the time when we take a collective breath after a long winter, stretch our legs, put on our sunglasses, and head into the green and growing, into the wild and into the water.
It’s when residents get to play in the outdoors before the crush of the much-needed tourists arrive for the summer, a shoulder season we treat more like amnesia season after winter and ready-set-go season before summer.
In Whitefish, a delicious new tradition is springing up, it’s name a throwback to celebrations people have held for centuries: Feast Whitefish.
From May 11 through 19, residents and visitors can wander from event to event testing and tasting offerings from local restaurants, and having fun while partying with distilling companies to watching local chefs battle it out over who can make the best burger.
“It’s really morphed into a cool little event,” said Whitefish Chamber Executive Director Kevin Gartland. “We’ve got three separate special events, none of them are huge, and all are manageable.”
Feast Whitefish begins with the ever-popular Distillers’ Fest on May 11; the opening night cocktail party at Grouse Mountain Lodge will include spirits from local distilleries as well as from Bozeman and Butte.
While everyone drinks and makes merry, the distillers are actually competing, with a judging panel selecting winners. The spirit of competition from the distillers surprised even Gartland.
“The judging and the competition has become something that I didn’t think would get the distilleries as excited as it does,” he said. “They get really excited to compete against each other.”
The event has sold out the last two years, so interested parties should purchase their tickets early if they want a seat.
Then, beginning May 14 and running through May 18, Feast Whitefish celebrates Restaurant Week, during which certain local eateries offer special value menus so Feast participants can try the variety of food offered here. Gartland said there are about a dozen restaurants participating this year, a healthy increase from the six who participated last year.
Feast Whitefish continues on May 15 with the Grand Gala winemaker dinner, which is a celebration of both regional wine and the valley’s stable of talented chefs. During the gala, six of the most popular and talented chefs in the area come together in one of the chef’s kitchens and put together an unrepeatable evening for the diners. All of the food is accompanied by award-winning wine from the western U.S.
This year’s gala will be held at The Last Chair, where Chef Tim Good will host the chefs on his home turf. Other participating chefs include Andy Blanton, executive chef at Café Kandahar; Ben Heese, the executive chef at Whitefish Mountain Resort; Melissa Mangold, executive chef at Latitude 48; Jeremy Grossman of Abruzzo Italian Kitchen; and Chris Dimaio of Three Forks Grille.
Finally, closing out Feast Whitefish on Saturday, May 19, join the audience and participants from local restaurants as they slug it out over who grills up the best burger during the Burger Battle. This year, the battle takes place at Cypress Yard event center on Wisconsin Avenue, and Gartland said eight to 10 restaurants were already signed up as of May 4.
In addition to the burgers, there’s a new added Open Grill category, pitting anything anyone wants to throw on the grill against the other grillmasters’ creations.
There will also be microbrews for sampling, and live music for dancing. The event runs from noon to 3 p.m. and tickets are going fast, Gartland said.
“I think we have all the right ingredients so if we have the sunshine we’ll be good,” Gartland said.
As it heads into its third year, Feast Whitefish continues to grow and expand, but at a manageable pace, Gartland said, which is how the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce likes it.
“The momentum is rolling for the event,” Gartland said. “It grows a little bit at a time and that’s the best way for it to do.”
For scheduling and ticketing information for Feast Whitefish, visit www.feastwhitefish.com, or call the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce at 406-862-3501.