The holidays and cold winter days are the perfect excuses to gather with friends, coworkers and family to eat, drink and be merry. It’s the season of evening cocktail parties, fireside wine tastings and après-ski nourishment, and no one can take that to the next level quite like Chef Chris DiMaio with Montana Craft Kitchen.
DiMaio spent a decade as the executive chef at Three Forks Grille in Columbia Falls before he pivoted to catering full-time, a shift that allows him to spend more of his time foraging and cultivating his garden while still experimenting with his cooking.
“I like being able to bring this quality of cooking to the people,” DiMaio said. “Being able to cook for smaller parties gives me so much more latitude for crafting each dish.”
DiMaio’s cooking ethos — to simply not overcomplicate things — stems from his Sicilian background and his time working in kitchens in the Northwest. His style takes seasonal ingredients and local flavors and manipulates them into cohesive dishes that could balance on a needlepoint. DiMaio also keeps the overall healthiness of each dish in mind and sees his services as a way to enlighten people through their tastebuds.
Keeping to a code of seasonality can be difficult during Montana’s long winter season, but DiMaio enjoys the challenge. He utilizes preservation methods such as fermenting, curing, drying and canning fresh produce to bring even hyper-seasonal delicacies to the winter palate. The various techniques “allow us to bring a little bit of sunshine to even the coldest winter menu.”
“We’ve got cool flavors and colors to use throughout the winter that a lot of people would overlook, like rose hips, serviceberries, chokecherries and delicata squash,” DiMaio said. “The inspiration for winter is leaning into comfort food, heartier spices and warmer flavors.”
The best way to experience the full spectrum of flavors DiMaio can pull together is through appetizers. The variety of smaller shared dishes keeps each trip to refill your plate exciting.
Each menu DiMaio crafts is customized and pulled together on a whim but follows relatively straightforward profiles. Recently, he paired birch-glazed delicata squash with local goat cheese and apples, topped with fresh cranberry chutney, Swiss chard and pumpkin seeds. Next to that was a crostini covered in a butternut squash puree and more goat cheese, with a fig, some pomegranate seeds and local microgreens for a colorful flair and bright flavor profile.
Scallops skewered along with local pears and foraged chanterelles were next. That was followed by beef carpaccio with a locally made black garlic aioli, sundried tomato and freshly harvested kale and pickled morels with a shaving of parmesan.
“It’s like taking a restaurant entree dish and condensing it down to a single bite,” DiMaio said of the process. “As far as party season goes, it’s a good way of feeding the masses and keeping food exciting during the winter.”
Description: Chef’s choice appetizer selection featuring seasonal flavors.
Location: Wherever you are
More information: montanacraftkitchen.com