New chef at Peaks
Eric Holup take reins at resort’s cornerstone restaurant
It’s his first day as head chef at Peaks restaurant in the Summit Hotel and Eric Holup is searching for inspiration in the walk-in refrigerator.
This veteran of seasonal restaurant work cut his teeth at places like the Goldener Hirsch in Deer Valley, Utah, before arriving in Big Sky. Zagat called the Goldener Hirsch “extraordinary,” and that’s what Holup is going for as he browses available ingredients in the walk-in.
“Quail eggs, blue crab, elk sausages, rack of lamb, some local duck, the bison dumplings are definitely a favorite,” remarks Holup, who on his first day back at Peaks is still getting his bearings.
He reflects: “It’s funny, I actually started in the Summit here four and a half years ago, and they needed some extra help at the Huntley, so went over there for three years and now I’ve come back.”
At Chet’s Bar and Grill, Holup left his mark by cooking up the “CFC Tower,” which started as a special and is now a popular menu item for $23. Diners are enticed by this description: “chicken-fried chicken, mashed potatoes, brown-butter pan gravy, candied baby carrots.”
Servers warn single diners that it might be too much for one person, and Holup says, “It still sells like gangbusters.”
Holup borrowed the recipe from a good friend who’s also a chef and it’s just one of the dishes that’s earned him the adoration of his coworkers, including his supervisor Wilson Wieggel, Big Sky Resort’s executive chef.
“Browned butter. That’s the key. The citrus brown butter. You could drink a cup of it,” sighs Wieggel.
“I’ve never had anything that Eric has made that wasn’t delicious,” says Wieggel. “The main thing is people like Eric. We need to surround ourselves with more Erics and people who really care, who live and breathe food.”
A quick glance at Holup’s Facebook profile reveals a culinary pro who loves live music, travel and interesting food. His online photos look like they are lifted from the production files of a scouting team for Anthony Bourdain. It’s a mix of revelry, interesting locations and hard-to-find delicacies.
“He spends two months a year traveling and experiencing different food,” adds Wieggel, who oversees Peaks and Big Sky Resort’s eight other food establishments.
Wieggel and Holup mind-melded over some basic principles, which now loom large over the food service industry. They all involve the word “local,” which is as worn out as classic rock on an aprés ski bar stereo. But local sourcing of great ingredients deserves renewed emphasis as a core principle of the dining scene at Big Sky Resort, say both Wieggel and Holup,
“We lost track of ‘mom and pop’ restaurants,” says Wieggel, who believes all chefs aspire to use the best, local ingredients. What’s different now is customer demand for local is on the rise.
“They want to hear a story when they go out to eat,” explains Wieggel, who lays out Big Sky Resort’s culinary ambitions like this: “We want to become a national dining destination. We want to put Big Sky dining on the map.”
To some, that means returning places like Peaks to a more prominent place in the dining scene.
“One thing that’s new is a redefined focus on bringing back what once was,” says Eric Trapp, assistant director of food and beverage at Big Sky Resort. “Used to be that this dining room (Peaks) was a must-go-to place when you visited this area. It was a splash. This used to be the place to go, here and The Timbers. And to be honest, this place lost some of the love.”
Wilson chimes in: “Bring back the love! Which is why we’re bringing in the ringer, Eric Holup.”
Those revving up the ambition of the Big Sky dining scene say they share a “Take care of the planet. Take care of the region” philosophy that has chefs like Holup extra motivated to access all Gallatin County and Montana have to offer.
What’s happened at Montana Jack might offer a glimpse of what’s to come at Peaks. It’s now a craft burger and beer place, which depends on a partnership with Montana Meat Company for 100 percent Montana beef. Add to that potatoes from Whitehall and a growing number of local restaurant suppliers for everything from oysters to micro-greens, and it’s clear Holup’s trips into the walk-in will remain inspiring journeys.
There’s even talk of doing more gardening up at the resort. Over the years, kitchen staff have grown herbs like basil and mint around Huntley Lodge, and that sort of thing may expand as chefs like Holup search for ingredients. The conversation has extended to chefs conspiring to find a piece of land down in the Meadow, but currently there are no formal plans for Big Sky Resort to grow more of its own.
Maybe they don’t have to, as purveyors like Summit Distribution and QFD continue to market themselves toward top chefs like Holup.
Holup recently made some ambitious—and still under wraps—additions to the Carabiner Lounge menu, and in the coming weeks, he’ll be rolling out new dishes at Peaks.
Leaving diners in suspense about what exactly will be new on the plate, Wieggel teases the changes happening this way: “The brand-new thing is Eric Holup.”