UM Campus Dining Chefs Earn National Recognition

Executive Chef Brian Heddlesten and Hailey Palmer, executive sous chef of retail dining, each recently earned awards in national competitions. (UM Photos by Ryan Brennecke)
Brian Heddlesten
Executive Chef Brian Heddlesten

MISSOULA – Two chefs with University of Montana Campus Dining recently succeeded on the national culinary stage in separate competitions. 

Executive Chef Brian Heddlesten won first place in the 2024 CMS Cost Solutions recipe contest, while Hailey Palmer, executive sous chef of retail dining, brought home a silver medal from the American Culinary Federation.

The two chefs were tested on their talent, style and creativity. Heddlesten won the recipe contest with his Chipotle Hot Chicken & Cornbread Cheddar Waffle recipe. He crafted the innovative dish using ingredients required by the contest’s sponsors: a breaded chicken breast filet and chipotle with adobo spice blend.

“The inspiration for this recipe was a little bit of Nashville hot chicken meets chicken and waffles with Tex-Mex flavor,” Heddlesten said. “I wanted to pull in a few of the components of hot chicken such as cayenne, brown sugar, and smoked paprika but still provide a chance for the chipotle flavor to stay at the forefront.” 

Heddlesten explained the breading on the chicken soaks up the spicy sauce, while the waffle deviates from the norm with the addition of cornmeal, jalapenos, and cheddar cheese.

As the recipe contest winner, Heddlesten received an expense-paid trip to the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago on May 19-21.

Hailey Palmer
Exectuive Sous Chef of Retail Dining Hailey Palmer 

Palmer earned her silver medal from the American Culinary Federation following her participation in the National Association of College and University Food Services regional culinary challenge, which took place March 25 in Tacoma, Washington. While several UM Campus Dining chefs have medaled in past ACF competitions, Palmer is the first to earn silver.

Palmer was one of six competitors from the NACUFS Continental Region to prepare an original dish for ACF officers and chefs, who scored her performance based on organization, talent, technique, taste and style.

The required proteins for the competition included branzino, a white ocean fish, bulgur wheat and white shrimp. Competitors were asked to build a nutritionally balanced plate using all three proteins and a starch, vegetable and sauce within a strict time limit.  

Palmer’s dish, Branzino and Bulgar Criolla, featured pan-fried bulgur-crusted branzino atop bulgur con gandules, served with tostones and a chimichurri shrimp skewer.  

The judges said they loved the shrimp and the overall flavors of the dish.

“I gained some great professional relationships with chefs I would not have met otherwise,” Palmer said. “I came back with a refreshed motivation to be a better chef.”

Palmer, who plans to become an ACF certified executive chef, said she enjoys creating new menu items and developing them with her teams at the Iron Griz: American Bistro and the food court in the University Center.

The entire UM Campus Dining culinary team is testing hundreds of new recipes as they prepare for the grand opening of UM’s new, two-story, state-of-the-art dining center, slated to open this fall. 

The all-you-care-to-eat dining center will be open to the public, featuring seven micro-restaurants that showcase cuisines from around the world. 


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,