Few would deny that the Flathead Valley draws tourists for a litany of reasons, but local chefs Martin Flores and Star Ironside are more concerned with a point they feel isn’t on that list: their own profession.
Flores and Ironside are aiming to change that with the establishment of the Glacier Culinary Association.
The two recently established the nonprofit organization in hopes of pulling together an association of food service providers — from food truck owners to fine dining restauranteurs — to accomplish a twofold goal.
First, they’re looking to compile information and resources to help ease the transition for new entrants to the valley’s culinary scene.
Second, participants would also contribute resources to help market the valley’s dining options as a unique reason to visit Northwest Montana. They hope that smart marketing can appeal to visitors as much as the chance to see glaciers, ski or raft down raging rivers.
“We want to bring voices together right now,” said Flores, who also co-owns, with Ironside, a local food truck called S&M Taco Truck. “Glacier Culinary Association is really going to be about everything culinary in the Flathead Valley.”
The idea was born when Ironside realized that despite the valley’s booming culinary scene in recent years, there was no broad coalition of food service providers trying to cooperatively enhance the business environment.
“She was aware there wasn’t any sort of broad association with food service providers in the valley,” Flores said.
Individual business owners were usually friendly when it came time to helping new people enter the market, but those associations were informal and based on personal relationships.
The problem was not an unwillingness to help others, but connecting all the right people in the same place.
That’s the problem Flores and Ironside hope to solve.
Entrance into the association will be free. Flores and Ironside are serving as co-managing directors, but Flores said once they build a sizable membership they will initiate conversations about voting for a leadership team and establishing future membership dues to fund marketing campaigns and events to raise awareness of the culinary quality in the valley. Ironside is confident her extensive training on attention to detail in high-end restaurants will help them make the organization a success.
The first major project for the group is to host and promote the inaugural Flathead Valley Food Truck Festival, August 10-12, in Columbia Falls. Flores hopes to recruit at least 10 food trucks to participate in the event, which will be held at the same venue as the annual Fire on the Mountain glass blowing event.
Flores said the festival’s principle use would be to raise the profile of food cart culture in the Valley, where new vendors join their ranks with each passing season.
In early June, officials from the Flathead County Health Department told the Daily Inter Lake that there were approximately 90 registered mobile-food vendors that had been authorized through their department. That number has been rising significantly and steadily in recent years.
Flores is quick to mention that he doesn’t intend for the organization to be solely a platform for proponents of food trucks. As more people join, he hopes the organization morphs into a sum greater than its parts that benefits every member.
Flores encourages food service providers who would like to join or learn more about the Glacier Culinary Association, from chefs to restaurant owners, to email him at email@example.com for a copy of the application.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (4060 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.