Hometown: Miles City
Lilac owner and executive chef Jeremy Engebretson has helped put Billings on a culinary map. His restaurant, Lilac, has become a mainstay and helped bolster downtown Billings' food offerings since 2010. Consistently highly rated, he recently took on a recreation of the Petroleum Club's menu.
Through your efforts, you have helped to put Billings on a culinary map. What inspired you to create great restaurants in Billings?
Creating a restaurant that would compete in a major metro scene has always been a goal of mine. I ended up moving back to Billings in part because it’s where I (mostly) grew up, and also because I felt a restaurant focusing on excellence in product and process would be well received here.
Is Billings a challenging place to establish great culinary options?
It is indeed. We have the largest population in Montana by quite a margin; however our per-capita restaurant ratio here shows there is a ton of competition on a ton of different levels. I feel a restaurateur, especially a small-scale place such as ours, really must operate intelligently and pretty close to perfect to make it.
What is the best part about operating restaurants here?
I am really honored by the repeat locals that continue to visit our establishments. I have had Lilac for almost six years, and we have a group of guests that have been coming in regularly for that whole time. It is incredibly rewarding to have people believe in and support what you do week after week.
What do you predict will happen in Billings in the next 10 years?
Hopefully we can keep producing small, independent operations that meet different demands of our city. I feel that we are going to keep growing and developing as a city, which should in turn lead to a higher demand for unique independent eateries. Hopefully I get to keep having a hand in that growth as well.
Have you ever thought of giving up culinary arts in Billings?
In 2010 when I cemented the idea of opening a restaurant here, I knew I would make it work here in the place I grew up. We create meaningful career options to people in the service industry. We prepare soulful craft-driven dining to our neighbors and folks passing through town. We use quality from scratch products and processes to create healthy unique experiences for our guests. We give back to a plethora of local charities and non-profits in an effort to better our surrounding communities. I very much want to better the place I live in, and make a difference. My skillset allows this to happen through restaurants, and I don’t forsee this leaving Billings.
What is your favorite type of food to prepare?
To echo a chef I respect a lot, Daniel Patterson, my favorite type of food to prepare is the stuff that looks incredibly simple but has a lot of underlying technique almost hidden in the preparation. Everything from our gnocchi to the burger at Lilac has many layers and steps that are basically invisible until you actually eat the dish. This creates a product that is fairly hard to replicate and is incredibly high quality without being pretentious. I love this about our style of cooking.
What is your guilty culinary pleasure?
Fast food hamburgers and fried chicken. I also eat foie gras once or twice a year because it’s so damn delicious.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Once Hannibal crossed the Alps, there was no going back.
If you couldn’t be in restaurants and kitchens, what would you be doing?
Something creative, with lots of steps and a seemingly simple appearance with a lot of work behind it. Woodworking or something of the like.
What do you do to relax and recharge?
When time permits, I like to travel and be taken care of in other places, which usually means dining. When time doesn’t permit, I like to spend time with my family and fall off the grid for a few hours at a time.