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Helena chef tells Montana Club’s history one ingredient at a time

Montana Club Executive Chef Micah Eller

HELENA – More than 130 years ago, Helena’s Montana Club was founded as a men’s only establishment. Much has changed since then.

Today it’s a fine-dining member’s club that also hosts weddings and other events.

The creative force behind the club’s dining is a homegrown chef who began her career in the food business at a very early age.

“I just got the bug, but it is definitely a job that you have to be passionate about,” said Micah Eller.

The Executive Chef’s journey to the Montana Club began on Last Chance Gulch, just around the corner from the club.

“I also grew up in my Mom’s restaurant, down on the Gulch, the No Sweat Café, started working there when I was about 3 years old grating cheese on the back counter,” Eller added.

After working in kitchens and bakeries in Helena, Eller honed her craft at the Oregon Culinary Institute of Portland and a year in the diverse food scene of Chicago, starting as a line cook and working her way up the ladder to cooking with a wood-fired oven.

“After I decided that I really loved cooking and baking I made it my goal to learn every single aspect of the business. I worked as a bar tender and as a server so I’ve done the front of house aspect as well.”

After a year in Chicago, she returned to Montana. “There’s just something that draws you back,” she said.

That’s when she saw an ad on CraigsList for the Executive Chef position at the club. She was hired at the Montana Club in 2015. She is now also the club’s General Manager.

“So my first menu was pretty simple, it was steak and salmon…trying to give people things that they had in the past.”

Since then she’s drawn on all her past experience, as a baker, line cook and chef to serve her customers at the club.

The chef combines taste and textures and applies them to a canvas called a menu.

“It just is a lot of creativity, we do seasonal shifts in the menu.” Eller changes the menu four times a year, more often if necessary; depending on feedback she gets from her diners.

Her menus include locally sourced rocky mountain staples: trout, game meats, morels and for a sweet treat, huckleberries.

“When I think of a dish I try to taste it in my head first. I try to think of what textures go together with that. I think having the balance of flavors is very, very important and adding like a fresh quality to it, that’s why we use a fresh herbs or a nice little salad garnish and just something to kind of not make your pallet bored while you’re eating it.”

Key ingredients to her approach -more green, more sustainability and less waste.

“Chefs of this generation have a really big responsibility in the future of how we are going to present food,” said Eller. “It has to be in a more sustainable way we have to start sourcing, especially like seafood that has to be sourced more sustainably, otherwise we are going to run out.”

And for this chef, zero waste tastes great.

“Trying to be able to utilize all of the products, like with our ribeyes…we grind the scrap and turn it into burgers for the RathSkeller and it’s like a completely different flavor because it’s delicious ribeye fat. So all of our veg scrap goes into veg stock that makes our sauces more flavorful.”

The Montana Club is Helena history and now Eller is making some history of her own.

She’s reached out to the community by having the club host different events, such as wine and drink pairings, a music festival for downtown this summer is also in the works.

While working on restoration of the historic club’s stained glass windows on the sixth floor of the building (a project that will take several years), the Chef is particularly proud of the opening of RathSkeller’s, a pub located in the basement of the club.

“I want people to come in and enjoy themselves. I think that’s the biggest part of dining is you just want to have a nice time. You want to eat good food, you want to drink good booze…I don’t want to fail the customer.”