At Tippet Rise, passion rendered music, erected life-sized sculptures, and created food. Chefs Nick Goldman and Wendi Reed of Wild Flower Kitchen cater with energy and gusto at the 10,260-acre art and music center in Fishtail, Montana. Amongst the musical notes and wide-open spaces, they feed world-renowned performers from afar, and guests arriving for chamber music recitals or tours of the vast sculpture park.
With intensity and focus, they prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for Cathy and Peter Halstead, the founders and visionaries of Tippet Rise and their guests. They do the prep work in what Chef Goldman calls their “culinary studio,” located in the heart of Fishtail, next to the General Store.
The former Muddy Lamb Pottery Studio has been converted to a working kitchen and catering facility. We met as they were preparing lunch for a gathering at Tippet Rise. Goldman’s speech is fast paced. His attention raced between the culinary task at hand to what his staff was doing, to speaking to me. “I like to stay busy, as you can tell” was an understatement.
“We want to emphasize Montana style service and humility and respect of our landscape,” as well as deliver beautiful food production and beautiful food products.” But for Goldman and Reed, even with their hectic pace, they find time to mentor three culinary students.
“It is important to Wendi and I that we teach what we know and that we help the young kids here to expand their culinary horizon,” Goldman said. “I am working everyone really hard and it is for their own good, to improve for what they do.”
One student, 15-year-old Christopher Pasezznyk joined the team two weeks ago. Developing knife-skills and learning about new foods were two major milestones for him. Raised in Roundup, and now living in Fishtail, he excitedly shared his favorite culinary discovery, “Cornichons – baby gherkins-and they are amazing.”
He prided himself as he washed dishes and ran defense for the staff during the evening buffet, and served guests before each performance, “I basically keep the kitchen from falling behind.”
Along with the students, Goldman’s brother is also on the team helping them out. Though his expertise is front of house, Benji has jumped in and helped with prep and service.
When cooking for the artists, Goldman said, “Creative people take care of their bodies a little bit better than the average person. Their bodies are their tools,” he continued, “Their hands are their tools. When they are playing the piano or violin, their minds and bodies have to be fresh.” Most steer away from red meat and opt for more plant-based options. “They are a pleasure to work with and we get an inside aspect that no one else really sees.”
Having grown up in England and traveled the world, Goldman shared, “I understand that big world scenario on how people view food from other countries. I want to give them a Montana experience but make it approachable.”
Preparing food in Tippet Rise’s remote location has its challenges. “They want simplicity, although none of this is simple to do food-wise, as we are on top of a mountain. Wendi and I went shopping until 8 or 9 o’clock last night at twelve different stores because we source everything ourselves.” Goldman and Reed come to Billings to stock up, having learned where the best products are found. Building relationships with suppliers and purveyors has made things easier.
Goldman started in the industry when he was 15 years old, working in a London pub. “I used to polish brass and do service. I got into the dish pit, basically got sort of an education there very quickly,” he said.
After completing his culinary training in Portland at the Le Cordon Bleu, he returned to London, working in Michelin-starred restaurants and living in a city where” it was impossible to pay my bills.” He moved to the states and did a stint in Seaview, Washington, where he learned to work with fish and to appreciate the bounty of local foragers. Drawn to Montana, he cooked in Billings at Bin 119, the Crown Plaza, and then at Bones, helping a friend from England.
Reed started in the culinary world while in high school in Los Angeles. She got involved with the CCAP, Careers Through Culinary Arts Program working with many local chefs. She had the opportunity to cook with Wolfgang Puck and did catering events for the Oscars. She attended culinary classes at Mission Hills College where she got a degree in food prep before graduating from high school. She earned a culinary scholarship to Johnson and Wales University in Denver. After completing the program, her work took her from dive bars to country clubs, and to big hotels in Las Vegas. Ultimately, she established her own pub, the British Bulldog.
Goldman and Reed met over potatoes at her pub. At the time, Goldman worked at a rival pub, the Three Lions, and shared a love of cooking and soccer. In culinary school, one of skills learned that separated the pretenders from the professionals was carving a potato with a tourne cut, a football shape with seven equal sides and flat ends. “He had the knives and I had the potatoes, so I pulled out a blade and a sack of potatoes and said “Let’s duel” and the rest is history.
Goldman arrived in Billings and assumed the management of the Big Yellow House B&B that was owned by his mother, and with Reed, took over the reins about 10 years ago. It was here they met Tippet Rise founders Cathy and Peter Halstead. Goldman has sinced sold the bed and breakfast. Over the year he believes he has cooked over a thousand meals for the Halsteads.
This season a new structure called Will’s Shed has been erected to give customers a more sheltered experience and for Goldman and Reed a more, workable on-site kitchen. A buffet feeds guests before each evening performance. Laura Viklund of Gunstock Timber Frames, who designed the new post and beam barn said, “Food has always been a part of Tippet Rise and the experience of having a meal together before going to a concert has been really important.” Last year a storm with high winds came through and sheared off a tent. “We realized it was not safe to have everyone eat outside and we needed to honor the food even more and give people a place to sit down and have a communal atmosphere that was sheltered and produce good quality food in it.”
The shed can accommodate 168 guests and has a series of glass overhead doors on two sides allowing for the structure to be completely open when the weather permits, or buttoned up if inclimate weather threatens.
Sue Ryquist, owner of Simply Wine, holds the contract to serve beer and wine during meals before performances. “Last year the conditions were very harsh. There would be thunderstorms, wind, hail you name it, and we would be outside. They built the new shed, named after Peter’s grandfather, and we can be inside and still be outside.”
Goldman and Reed will find the new kitchen more usable. Currently the kitchen is not completed. Goldman has better access from the kitchen to the area where food is served. This way, he can address issues from the catering team more easily.
There is now a new deli counter and kiosk space where pastries, desserts and sandwiches are available. Viklund said, “This year they have a more legitimate location, a full permanent set up where they can really do their best work and provide good service to everybody.”
“When they first put the kitchen in the Olivier Barn they had the vision of a warming kitchen where there would be small hor d'oeuvres, but the barbecue is a substantial part of the weekend,” Viklund continued. There will be a larger walk-in refrigerator, a commercial hood and more prep space. The kitchen flows to the deli bar area with more ease.
Viklund shared that all the appliances in the kitchen are electric because Tippet Rise has solar power, “We can be off the grid, and if not, we will be very shortly.”
With Will’s Shed and its new kitchen, Chefs Goldman and Reed will only continue to nourish those who come to Tippet Rise.