Executive Chef Benjamin Heese brings a classic Scandinavian dish to the resort’s annual moonlight dine and ski

Story by Justin Franz | Photography by Greg Lindstrom
Every winter, Whitefish Mountain Resort Executive Chef Benjamin Heese racks his brain for a unique menu concept to feature at the ski hill’s bi-annual moonlight dine and ski dinner at the Summit House. The effort took on even more meaning this fall, however, as Heese sought to come up with something truly special to mark the resort’s 70th anniversary.

But anyone who has met Heese knows the 33-year-old chef is up to the task. Originally from Kansas, Hess has had a passion for food going back to when he was growing up.

“I was the kid who always rejected the kids menu and got the bacon-wrapped filet,” he says. “I love cooking because it’s the perfect combination of art and chemistry.”

After studying hotel and restaurant management at Kansas State University, Heese worked at a resort in Colorado for a season. When he was in between jobs, he took a road trip to ski in Whitefish and crash on a friend’s couch.

Like so many people who have visited the Flathead, Heese fell in love with the area and decided to stay. He found a job in the kitchen at Wasabi, Whitefish’s popular sushi restaurant, and spent the next seven years there. Three years ago, Heese took the top kitchen job at Whitefish Mountain Resort. On the mountain, Heese runs three restaurants, including the Summit House, Ed & Mully’s and the Base Lodge.

While many skiers are looking for ski hill staples — meaty hamburgers and mountains of nachos — Heese prides himself on offering options for all palates. This year, the resort is offering a “Far East” menu with Pho, a ginger chicken teriyaki bowl, a seared tuna bowl and more. The “From the South” menu includes a rustic verde chicken.

But perhaps the biggest meal of the year is the bi-annual moonlight dine and ski dinner at the Summit House, held this winter on Feb. 2 and March 2. Participants take the chairlift to the summit, where they enjoy drinks and appetizers before sitting down for a themed dinner. After desert, everyone skis or snowboards down the moonlit slopes.

The theme for February’s dinner is Scandinavian, in honor of the resort’s 70th anniversary. Heese said he came up with the concept because of skiing’s Scandinavian roots. The meal will include Lingonberry and Jarlsberg stuffed pork loin, Swedish meatballs, potato gratin and gronkal. One of the highlights will be Gravadlax, a cured salmon appetizer served with lemon-dijon cream, watermelon radish and micro cabbage atop a rye crostini.

“It’s a dish that really promotes traditional Scandinavian flavors,” Heese says.

Whitefish Mountain Resort spokesperson Riley Polumbus says the Summit House dinner is one of the mountain’s most popular events and always sells out.

“Only doing it a few times a year makes it really special,” she says.