They call it a week of rock star chefs.

Montana State University Billings has been presenting the Wine & Food Festival for 25 years, bringing in renowned chefs and wine experts to help the school raise money for scholarships. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the event, the MSUB Foundation invited back the most popular chefs, known to organizers as the rock stars of the event.

They include regional chefs like Nick Stein from the Northern Hotel’s Ten Restaurant, Amy Smith from The Grand Hotel in Big Timber, and Carl Kurokawa and David Maplethorpe, who have been involved with the festival for 18 years.

They come because they care.

“The community is where we live. They take care of us, we take care of them,’ Maplethorpe said.

Maplethorpe, formerly of the Rex, and Kurokawa, who is the chef owner at Juliano’s Restaurant, also cook the Thanksgiving Day meal for the Montana Rescue Mission every year, a task they have put together for years.

Certified Wine Professional Stella Fong has been working with the festival for 17 years, one year after she moved to Billings.

“This is one of the premier food events in Montana,” Fong said. "It’s fun. I get to be with the Rolling Stones of chefs.”

Fong said it's a reunion of some of the top names in food and wine.

National chefs returning this year include Raghavan Iyer, a celebrated chef, cookbook author and culinary educator, and James Dodge, a well-known pastry chef and cookbook author.

Events throughout the year lead up to the festival, but the bulk of events take place over a six-day period, kicking off with a guest chef dinner on Monday, May 15 at the Northern Hotel and ending with the “Fine Finish" in a tent on the campus of MSU Billings on Saturday, May 20.

The week will also include cooking classes, a wine master symposium and cooking demonstrations. Colin McKenney, from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Ore., will pair with Jeremy Engebretson, of Lilac and the Billings Petroleum Club, to present beer and food pairings on Tuesday, May 16.

On Friday, May 19, Wine and Food Pairings will be presented at 6 p.m. under the tent on the MSUB grounds. For the full schedule or for available tickets, call the Foundation at 657-2244.

This year, organizers hope to exceed $345,000, which is what the festival took in last year. All of the money goes to scholarships.

Jeanne Moller, of the MSUB Foundaion, said participants never forget that students are at the heart of this event.

“This brings together so many different factions. At the heart of it is the cause we’re working toward,” Moller said.

Bill Kennedy, MSUB Foundation president, credits the host of volunteers, some of whom have been with the festival since its inception, with keeping it going.

“This is such a successful event because of those involved, including our chair people who have been involved with it over the years,” Kennedy said.

As part of the finale, a scholarship recipient talks about the impact of receiving a scholarship.

“They speak about where they are today because of the scholarship. It does make a difference for our students,” Moller said.


Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.