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Flavors: World Flavors from Kandahar Lodge at Whitefish Mountain

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Stella Fong
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Executive Chef Andy Blanton and Chef de Cuisine Steen Turner put the finishing touches to dishes at Café Kandahar.

Café Kandahar reopened on December 15 for the winter season in time for the holidays and winter skiing. At Café Kandahar, Executive Chef Andy Blanton aspires to serve food that “sings” and “electrifies” using classic and modern culinary techniques.

Under the watch of Whitefish Mountain is the Kandahar Lodge where Executive Chef Andy Blanton at Café Kandahar expresses local sensibility through world flavors finessed with classic and modern techniques. The four-time James Beard Foundation nominated Best Chef:Northwest semifinalist have orchestrated dishes that have impressed diners since 1999.

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Stella Fong
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The entrance to Café Kandahar is adjacent to the main room at the Kandahar Lodge, owned by Executive Chef Andy Blanton and his parents Dalise and Lindsay JR since 2006.

Although the recording for this Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region was made in the summer, the café and lodge, owned by Blanton and his parents Dalise and Lindsay Blanton JR since 2006 encapsulates the idyllic mountain experience.
The restaurant is inside a chalet style building with wood shingles and pitched roofs. Wood panels and beams adorn the main room with a river stone fireplace and the restaurant, an intimate space off to the side of the front reception counter. With snow in the air and on the ground, one could believe that Santa and Rudolph will show up with gifts and holiday cheers.

“I started cooking when I was in Virginia Beach and went to culinary school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The chef instructors at the time inspired me to go work at the best restaurants in New Orleans, and so I was able to work under Frank Brigsten at Brigsten’s Restaurant as well as Jamie Shannon (who succeeded Emeril Lagasse) at Commander’s Palace, and then Susan Spicer (of Bayona Restaurant) with a side project she was doing,” he said.

“I look up to most of the Michelin starred chefs in the industry and particularly to the two- or three-star level,” he continued.

Since 1900, the French tire company Michelin has been publishing guide books. The book awards up to three Michelin stars for restaurant excellence around the world. In the United States, only restaurants located in California, Chicago, Florida, New York, and Washington, D.C. are considered for awards.

According to the Michelin guide:

“A Michelin Star is awarded to restaurants offering outstanding cooking. We take into account five universal criteria: the quality of the ingredients, the harmony of flavors, the mastery of techniques, the personality of the chef as expressed through their cuisine and, just as importantly, consistency both across the entire menu and over time.

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Stella Fong
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Executive Chef Andy Blanton works in the kitchen while the second course is brought to the table: Golden Alaskan King Crab with morels, fava beans, heirloom tomatoes, saffron, lemon basil oil and pea sprouts.

One MICHELIN Star is awarded to restaurants using top quality ingredients, where dishes with distinct flavors are prepared to a consistently high standard.

Two MICHELIN Stars are awarded when the personality and talent of the chef are evident in their expertly crafted dishes; their food is refined and inspired.

Three MICHELIN Stars is our highest award, given for the superlative cooking of chefs at the peak of their profession; their cooking is elevated to an art form and some of their dishes are destined to become classics.”

Blanton admits to growing up and not loving food. “I was enamored with the possibility of being able to prepare food and looked up to those who could do it, but I had no influence in the home other than food was just to eat, not to really play with.”

With both his parents working outside of the home, he recalls popular dishes from the times. “It was more of a heat and serve, or we to excited about Rice a Roni, and different chicken dishes. One dish in particular, the old crescent roll, the Pillsbury rolled up with chicken and cheese. That was the cat’s meow for me in those days,” he shared.

These days, the chef who has an affection for words shared, “So I became a huge fan of the romantics as a young teenager. English is arguable the true passion and by English, I mean writing, literature, poetry, philosophy, great thinkers.” In line with how he has approached his cooking, he continued, “I am interested in those who are searching for something more or deeper.”
On this summer night when I dined at the restaurant, a five-course meal was offered:

Kona Kampachi, Fish Sauce Caramel, Sea Urchin Butter, Wasabi Root, Parsnips, Citrus Gel, Chili Oil

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Stella Fong
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Duck Rillette and Duck Proscuitto with Yuzu marmalade, strawberry-basil jam, Montana Chevre, arugula and duck cracklin’ is one of the offerings for the third course at Café Kandahar.

Golden Alaskan King Crab, Morels, Fava Beans, Heirloom Tomatoes, Saffron, Lemon-Basil Oil, Pea Sprouts

Duck Two Ways: Duck Rillette and Duck Proscuitto, Yuzu Marmalade, Strawberry-Basil Jam, Montana Chevre, Arugula, Duck Cracklin’

Halibut Cheeks, Lobster Mushrooms, Kaffir Lime, Spruce Tips, Summer Squash, Spinach Foam

Huckleberry Tart, Lemon Crème Fraiche, Mint Crystals

In the audio recording for this Flavors Under the Big Sky, Blanton explains his thought process in bringing his dishes together. Many of the components take days to make with final assembly of the parts at service.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.