Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Flathead Lake Lodge chef blends Southern and local influences for spring dinners

by SUMMER ZALESKY Daily Inter Lake
| May 8, 2024 12:00 AM

A self-proclaimed Navy brat, Rob Clagett moved extensively with his family before settling down and growing up in Virginia. His home base coupled with his uncle’s career as a chef lit the flame to explore a culinary path of his own. 

“Being around southern food in particular really opened my eyes, and then around the time I was in college, I started working kitchen jobs pretty regularly. I would get a job as a cook and after a few months accidentally end up as the kitchen manager,” Clagett said with a laugh. 

For the last five years Clagett has been the executive chef at the Flathead Lake Lodge. 

For the second year in a row, the lodge is hosting two weekends of four-course dining to dazzle taste buds with spring’s long-awaited seasonal flavors. The dinners are May 9-11 and May 17-19. 

Clagett’s background in the culinary world has influenced the dinners that will be offered over six nights at the Bigfork lodge. 

During his career, Clagett was approached by a friend who asked him to manage a restaurant he was starting — The Golden Pony — which became Clagett’s launching pad to understanding the ins and outs of restaurant management. Once the restaurant was well-established, Clagett moved to New York to pursue a degree at the Culinary Institute of America.

After receiving his culinary arts degree, Clagett moved back to Virginia to work at Lemaire, a fine dining restaurant where he continued improving his skills. 

“The primary guiding light for me over the years have definitely been the traditions of French technique and the flavors, seasonality, and history of Southern food,” said Clagett.

From the halibut and red pepper nage to the rice grits and succotash, the Southern influences pervade the spring dinner menu. Another cornerstone of Clagett’s technique is, quite literally, playing with fire.

“I have always had a personal affinity for charred foods and it’s become a huge part of what I do,” he said. “When we remodeled the kitchen at the lodge, we built an auxiliary kitchen that is all live fire so I can play around with some of those techniques.”

This emphasis on charring can be seen on the smoked sherry aioli and the poblano peppers, for instance, and Clagett hopes it will create a surprising and delicate flavor profile for diners.

“We peel the actual burnt skin off of the poblanos, but you still get that smoky flavor and then you can see how that plays with the blood orange and the aromas from the quinoa, kaniwa, amaranth, and teff,” Clagett explained.

This course, which is a play on Tabouleh, features old world, ancient grains, all of which are gluten-free. The Carolina gold rice grits are sourced from Anson Mills, a famous mill founded in 1998 that recreates ingredients of the 19th-century Southern larder.

“[Anson Mills] makes this heirloom rice that they intentionally mill to mimic corn grits and it has this amazing unique flavor,” Clagett said. 

S succotash, which can be made in a variety of ways, Clagett said.

“Traditionally it's any medley of corn, fresh beans, peppers, and onions,” he said. “Every grandma in the South is going to have their own succotash recipe that they're feeding their family.”

In regards to the Flathead Lake Lodge’s plans for the future, the team plans to open a seasonal restaurant called Quarter Circle from December to March, giving Clagett more opportunities to “exercise his creative demons,” he said. 

“We want to treat [Quarter Circle] like a pop-up where every year has a different theme. This year we are going to do a tapas theme and in the formal seating area there will also be an entree menu,” said Clagett. 

Since moving to the Flathead Valley six years ago, Clagett said he has developed an affinity for products that are “more true to Montana” and has started implementing Montana-made ingredients in his cooking such as organic rye berry from Wicked Good Farms.

The spring dinners, which also have an optional add-on of four-course wine pairings, will feature many of these traditional French and Southern fusion ideas.

The goal of the dinners is to “connect with members of the community and invite them into our home,” said Clagett.

Dinners begin at 6 p.m. The menu for each weekend’s dinners is different. 

Tickets can be purchased or by calling 406-837-4391.

Reporter Summer Zalesky may be reached at

    Salmon with beluga lentils, carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard, and a red pepper coulis is served at Flathead Lake Lodge. (Courtesy photo)