Flavor Moments: Dinner In A Parking Lot With Cody Ringo And Lena Olson

Aug 28, 2017

Chef Cody Ringo stands in front of his wood burning grill
Credit Stella Fong

Flavor Moments is an offshoot of Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region. In Flavor Moments, we discover new flavors from restaurants, farmers, and producers. We learn of events, new eateries and new personalities in food and spirits. 

In my email the other day, I received a note from Lena Olson. Lena worked at City Vineyard for seven years before taking on a sales position at Winegardner’s Wines. Eventually she went to New York and now continues to consult in the wine and food industry there. As for her reason for heading to the Big Apple, she said, “I wanted to go to the biggest ‘baddest’ place to see what happens.” So I was intrigued to hear from her. 


Sign for Ember Cooking Company food truck at the old Billings Nursery parking lot
Credit Stella Fong

In her email, she was inviting me to a five-course wine and food dinner on Poly Drive at the location of the food truck, Ember Cooking Company. The event was to take place on August 28 at 7:30 p.m. with a cost of $65. 

These days invitations to dinners are no longer sent via snail mail. Gatherings are announced on Facebook, in a text, on an Intagram, through e-vite, or in my case via email. These are referred to as “pop-up dinners” because it is a one-time occurrence. The theme may change, the location may change or the chefs may change. Unless I bring friends, I may not know who my dining companions will be.  

Lena is teaming up with Cody Ringo, owner of Ember Cooking Company. He, too, had a New York stint, having completed courses at the French Culinary Institute. Then after cooking in Manhattan, San Francisco and other places, Ringo returned to Billings where his folks lived. He said, “The state just gave me a warm hug,” giving him the encouragement to come home. 

Ringo shared, “My Dad and I started, just for something to do, to go to Farmers Market. I pulled his camper and we just kind of cooked food.” The he wondered why he could not start a mobile business in Billings. New York provided challenges in making a living and the work was hard. After Ringo came back here, he realized opening up a restaurant was not feasible but spent days working on a business plan for a food truck.

Lena grew up in Laurel. New York has not only opened her culinary portfolio but has given her a jumping point for her to visit countries that make wine. This summer she went to Corsica, Spain and spent a little time in Italy – “Too little time,” she shared. 

Ember Cooking Company is where Chef Ringo said, “I cook American food and there’s a lot of different references to all over the globe.” The menu is limited but provides diverse selections. Beef Dip, Chicken Sandwich and his most popular item - Spicy Noodles are a handful of his offerings. He cooks his meat over a wood-fired grill. On Sundays, he fires up burgers. He sources locally from suppliers such as Kate’s Garden and Montana Wagyu Cattle Company.


Chef Cody Ringo and Lena Olson in front of Ember Cooking Company food truck
Credit Stella Fong

His truck is found in a “permanent” position in the old Billings Nursery parking lot. Ringo admits to not liking to move it around. For commuting ease, he lives right across the street. 

 Out of his 24-foot battleship gray food truck equipped with a mini kitchen and a wood-burning grill, Ringo will be serving his five-course dinner. Dinner begins with a caramelized tomato in a dashi and stone fruit broth. He warned, “I am going to sneak a few things in like mojama.” (Mojama is a Mediterranean delicacy where tuna has been cured in salt for several days.) Then he will feature grilled Jimmy Nardello peppers, a thin-skinned skinny pepper accompanied with roasted salted blueberries garnished with coriander and verjus – the pressed juice from unripen grapes. Then he will confit a lamb shoulder given to him by a friend. Freekeh, a smoked Middle Eastern grain and pickled okra will be the sides. The final savory course is roasted beef rib. Though this meat is usually braised, Ringo thinks roasting it is more appropriate for summer eating. Finally grilled fruit will end the meal.  For wines, Olson will bring Gruner Veltiner, Riesling, Listan Negro from the Canary Islands, and she said, “My favorite of the evening is a very special bottle of sherry.”  I will be attending this dinner with five of my friends. I look forward to feasting with 35 others in a parking lot with food created from a food truck paired with wine from afar.