We spoke with Chef Eduardo Garcia, who has learned from a life-changing experience how to, well, live a charged life.
It takes about 0.02 seconds of speaking with Eduardo Garcia to come to the realization that you are conversing with a unique person.
And that’s not to say he’s unique solely because of the accident that led to the amputation of his left hand, and his opportunity to call himself one of just a few who’ve managed to maintain their job as a world class chef, and navigate their way through a kitchen one-handed.
When Garcia is referred to as unique, it’s more a testament to his perspective and his mind frame than anything else.
An avid outdoorsman, accomplished chef, and spokesperson for what we all love about the western U.S., Garcia is also finding time, amongst all his other projects, to show people the place he’s come to appreciate as a sort of wilderness muse.
Probably the most poignant takeaway from our talk stemmed from the fact that he is open enough to admit he might not have it all figured out, and he’s willing to keep working to make the most out of life. He hasn’t let what’s happened to him slow his desire to hunt for elk every season he can, or to gather the wild mushrooms he needs for his latest dish. His story of tragedy, recovery, and hope has brought him back to Montana, where his affinity for the wilderness was stemmed.
“I guess there’s an easy starting point there,” he said when I asked about his first memories of the outdoors, “growing up in southwest Montana, in a place called Paradise Valley, which is super appropriately named. It’s a very tight, 11-mile wide by 30-mile long valley lined with 9,000-10,000-foot peaks. We moved there when I was 6 years old, and via natural immersion in surroundings, along with Boy Scouts, and then my friends doing that same thing. We didn’t have a mall a mile down the road, we didn’t have a 7-Eleven or Chuck E. Cheese, or any of that stuff.”
So what did he have? What was his neighborhood like?
“Our neighborhood was the creeks lined with cottonwoods, and the whitetail deer, and the Hungarian partridge, and the turkey that hung out on the creek bottom,” he said. “And our other neighborhood was the upper foothills with rolling sage and juniper, to the alpine conifer forests that go up into the alpine peaks, that was also one of our neighborhoods. That’s how we grew up, running around in those hills together, and that kickstarted my love for the outdoors at a very early age.”
Then, as a teen, Garcia realized his interest in food, and basic kitchen jobs led to more lucrative opportunities as a private chef on traveling yachts across the world’s oceans.
He returned to Montana in 2011, and co-founded Montana Mex, sharing his love for the foods found in the region and pursuing a more public, media-based process of doing so.
Garcia was already in the public eye after his 2011 electrical accident. When bowhunting for elk in the Montana backcountry, he found a bear carcass, and poked it with his knife. 2,400 volts shot through his left arm, and he suffered severe burns on the left side of his torso. After 21 surgeries and rib removal, they still couldn’t save his hand and forearm. To add to the difficulties, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer while still recovering in the ICU.
“Now we’re a week away, almost, just about a week away from that anniversary date,” he said on his accident. “I’m grateful to have my health back under my belt, and to still be working on the food brand, as well as being able to pursue my interests in using media as an outlet to share my stoke for these things in life. Additionally, there is a feature length documentary film called Charged being produced right now that shares details of my story and those of survival. Working through interviews with the director has pushed me to take a deep and honest look at my life. On most days this entire process is guiding my emotional recovery and where I put my focus and energy looking into the future.”
That film, produced in partnership with YETI, takes a close look at Garcia with the backdrop of Montana, where he’s spent so much time fly fishing and hiking, elk hunting and wild foraging. It’s already achieved must-see status, and the trailer proves why.
Garcia has committed to working with organizations like the Challenged Athletes Foundation as well as public speaking in an intentional effort to share a message worth spreading. One of his biggest hurdles is his fear of not doing good work, by laying his story out there he feels he is processing pain into purpose and hopes it helps others.
“I’m trying to cut the fat, trim the fat out of my life so that my actions are a reflection of gratitude, and I can show thanks and be thankful, rather than just say it,” he said.
That effort to “fine tune my everyday hours,” as he put it, starts and ends in Montana, and Garcia will be seeking what makes him happy.
“Because it’s not a prescription, man,” he said. “I know that. Through my deathbed, I know that you can’t go get happiness. You can’t just go get it ordered.”