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Montana chef makes shortlist for James Beard Awards

A Western Montana chef is in the running for one of the industry’s top honors, the James Beard Best Chef Award
Social Haus menu
Posted at 8:40 AM, Apr 16, 2024

GREENOUGH — Quality and excellence are key ingredients in the food industry.

They’re also essential for prestigious awards and national recognition for chefs.

Those reasons are why one Greenough chef is in the running for one of the industry’s top honors, the James Beard Best Chef Award.

“I peaked when I was about 13 or 14 when I won the pineapple upside-down cake competition in the county fair," joked Brandon Cunningham, the executive chef at the green o at the Resort at Paws Up.

Chef Cunningham
Brandon Cunningham is the executive chef at the Social Haus restaurant which is part of the green o.

But what Cunningham didn’t know back then was that was actually a false summit.

His true mountain top moment is happening now since he’s made the shortlist for the James Beard Best Chef Award.

“About 240 (chefs) total across the country were recognized on the long list. Even the long list can change your career. So the long list to me was like, that's all I need. But then, waking up in the morning and seeing my name on the shortlist, I think it still feels a little surreal honestly,” he said.

Cunningham is one of five chefs remaining in the contest for the mountain region and is fulfilling a dream he’s had for years.

“The James Beard award has been definitely coveted as far as I'm concerned, as a personal goal for as long as I could really remember,” he said.

With creative freedom in the kitchen at the green o’s Social Haus, he takes childhood classics and elevates them to masterpiece status.

the green o
A piece of wagyu beef is cooked on a rock plucked from the Blackfoot River

“One of my favorites is a Big Mac we make these cute little Big Mac buns and they get two slices of Wagyu and they build their own Big Mac," Cunningham explained. "I think that’s probably the crowd favorite.” He also shared with MTN that he finds great joy in cooking Southeast Asian cuisine and tries to bring out the authenticity of those flavors.

A big part of the Social Haus experience is people feeling connected while they’re dining.

“It's playful, it's fun,” Cunningham said. “Starting with you know, three different couples and then all the sudden you’ve got a six top. (It) happens a lot where they’ll come in as couples and they’re eating at the bar every night with the friends that they’ve found.”

Cunningham will next travel to Chicago with 60 other chefs in June to find out who will take home the award.

Visit the green o online if you’d like more information on the Social Haus restaurant.