Chef Ben Jones elevates Montana cuisine with refined ranch menus at the Paws Up resort, where guests choose from fine dining to chuck wagon dinners.
Ben Jones waited nearly 10 years for his dream job to come around. Now, as executive chef of The Resort at Paws Up in Montana, he’s gone from cosmopolitan city chef to cooking chuck wagon dinners and managing the exclusive fine-dining outlet Pomp.
The 250-room luxury resort in Greenough—about 30 miles east of Missoula—is celebrating its 10th anniversary. This month, Jones will head up the resort’s signature event, Montana Master Chefs, which brings acclaimed chefs from around the country for a food festival. This year’s festival is a roundup of chefs from Chicago, the city where Jones spent much of his cooking career.
Chef Jones grew up in Florida, where he started working in restaurants at the age of 14. During high school, he had the option of moving to Montana with his parents, but instead he opted to enroll in The Culinary Institute of New Zealand. After graduating, he moved to Cincinnati and cooked under the tutelage of the former Arboreta’s Anita Hirsch Cunningham in the late ’90s, and later under master chef Hartmut Handke in Columbus. Along the way he spent summers in Montana, falling in love with the scenic landscapes and peaceful lifestyle.
Now, his workday might be anything but peaceful at this multi-million-dollar resort, where Chef Jones oversees a culinary team of 45 people, eight dining venues, a 180-seat dining room, five campsites, nightly chuck wagon dinners, and a boatload of private events during the summer. Occasionally he even conducts private cooking demos and dinners in the cabins on the resort.
“I [traveled] back and forth visiting Montana for the last 21 years, trying to find a way to make it my home, but making it out here as a chef is not easy,” Jones says.
The availability of chef jobs in Montana pales in comparison to the opportunities Chef Jones found working in Chicago, where he clocked time at the fine-dining institution Tru, and at the luxury Peninsula Hotel.
When Montana resort jobs do open up, they are highly coveted and highly competitive. That’s why—when a position at a Montana resort opened up while he was working at The Peninsula Hotel—Jones jumped at the opportunity. Turns out, that job wasn’t as perfect as he had anticipated, so he returned to Chicago, where he spent five years working for Levy Restaurants. All the while, he kept tabs on the Paws Up Resort, which had opened when he was in Montana.
“That was eight years ago,” Chef Jones says, adding, “I’ve been waiting ever since for that executive chef job to open up.”