Chef Melissa Mangold takes over the kitchen at one of Whitefish’s most popular restaurants

Story & photography by Justin Franz

When Melissa Mangold became executive chef at Latitude 48 last year, one of her first orders was to take down the window decal that proclaimed the Whitefish eatery to be a “Mediterranean” restaurant. That’s not to say that Mangold and her crew can’t make you a nice bowl of pasta or some great hummus — they can and still do — it’s just that the new executive chef didn’t want to be defined by one type of cuisine.

Since Mangold took over, Latitude 48 in downtown Whitefish has continued to flourish as one of the town’s premier places to grab a bite. That success is supported by a revamped menu that features old favorites plus new flavors from around the world, including an ever-popular Malaysian Shrimp entrée.

Mangold has been cooking since she was 23 years old when, while working as a waitress, an unpleasant interaction with a guest sent her from the front of the house to the back. Recalling that night some 28 years later, she said she lost her cool with a rude and rowdy table. Afterwards she walked up to her manager and announced that he was going to have to fire her. The conversation happened within earshot of the resturant’s head chef, who asked if she wanted to work in the kitchen. She’s been there ever since.

Mangold went to culinary school in Pittsburgh before cooking under a master chef in Germany for a year. The latter experience was “eye opening,” she said. She cooked in Ohio for a few years until she came to the Flathead for a wedding at the Belton Chalet. She immediately fell in love with the place, and the following spring she returned to West Glacier with her resume in hand. She was hired and didn’t leave for 15 years.

When the Belton started closing during the winter, Mangold began looking for something new and landed at Latitude 48, where the owners — Glacier Restaurant Group — told her she would have the freedom to shape the menu anyway she likes. Since taking over, Mangold has been trying to introduce more worldly flavors, especially those from Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Vietnam.

Among those Southeast Asian-inspired dishes is the Malaysian Shrimp, which features grilled shrimp, coconut curry, leeks, peppers, sprouts and green papaya atchara atop a bed of rice noodles. Mangold said the dish is hard to reproduce at home, in part because of how complex the scratch-made coconut curry is.

“If you’re going out, you should be able to get something you can’t make yourself,” she said.