EDUARDO GARCIA ON LIFE IN MONTANA
Story By Emily Fiffer
Photography by Jon Levitt
“SEVERELY ELECTROCUTED, GARCIA MANAGED TO WALK THREE MILES FOR HELP. HE WAS AIRLIFTED TO A HOSPITAL AND SPENT THE NEXT 48 DAYS IN INTENSIVE CARE, LOSING HIS LEFT HAND AND FOREARM AND FOuR RIBS IN THE PROCESS.”
If you were lucky enough to have been a guest at Eduardo Garcia’s 33rd birthday celebration in August, you didn’t come bearing gifts. You spent hours beneath the steady beat of Montana’s sun, absorbing dirt, dust, and freshly plowed land. In lieu of making small talk at cocktail hour, you built a mulch pathway and trimmed a sprawling juniper tree on the verdant 3-acre property. For your hard work, Garcia rewarded you with cold beer, smoky whole-grilled vegetables, and wild game he’d hunted in the woods surrounding his land.
Though physically absent, he loomed large in the form of stories from Garcia’s mother (he reentered the picture when Garcia was 13). “She’d talk about when she and my dad had lived in the jungle and he’d call out a species of fish just by hearing the sound of its splash,” Garcia says. “He was a total native-pirate-bohemian figure in my mind’s eye. I remember thinking, ‘I’m a part of him. I must also be connected to the outdoors.’ ”
If this doesn’t sound typical, that’s because it isn’t. Garcia is an enigma: a youthful presence with a profound connection to the ways of his ancestors, a bohemian with an Instagram handle. He’s not the guy who takes the road less traveled; he builds the road himself. His journey teems with the theme of not playing by the rules. Raised by a single mother—his dad left when he and his twin brother were two weeks old—he grew up with a bunch of ragtag single-parent kids. “Our parents were working,” he says. “We put ourselves through our own education, whether it was food or life.” He smoked stolen cigarettes, drank, and did too many drugs. “We had shattered lives but the most epic playground [a kid] could ever want.”
Garcia shot, skinned, and gutted his first deer at age 12, built a fire in the forest, and cooked it. “We totally ended up eating raw meat,” he says. “But it just lit up that fire inside of me: Wow, we just provided for ourselves.” He began fishing and hunting game for family dinners and cobbling together meals when his friends were hungry.
After his high-school graduation, Garcia attended culinary school, worked under a Japanese chef in Seattle, and spent almost a decade sailing around the world on yachts as a personal chef. Invigorating as it was, life on the water was a 24/7 gig. Garcia had few days off and, in an effort to feed his inner hunter-gatherer, tapped into his surroundings the best way he knew how. “I’d get the crew and guests together and insert Montana Boy,” he explains. “I’d find the hidden market, the butcher in the middle of old-town Nice.” Eventually, though, Montana Boy took over: “I needed to be back, to do something to add greater value.”
In 2009, he returned to his childhood stomping grounds and put down roots: a log cabin on the 3-acre property where he now lives. “At the end of yachting, I had a crazy desire to create something community- and family-oriented,” he says. To that end, Garcia, his brother, and his then-girlfriend founded Montana Mex, a line of culinary products (seasoning salts, salsa, hot sauce) inspired by his forager-explorer lifestyle, and started filming a fledgling TV show called Active Ingredient.
Then, in 2011, a freak accident rocketed Garcia into the media spotlight. While on a hunting expedition, he came across a mass of fur—a dead baby bear, it turned out. Garcia poked at the animal with his knife, unaware that 2,400 volts of electricity from a downed power line were pulsing beneath the carcass. Severely electrocuted, Garcia managed to walk 3 miles for help. He was airlifted to a hospital and spent the next 48 days in intensive care, losing his left hand and forearm and four ribs in the process. An articulated, myoelectric five-fingered hand replaced the missing limb and earned him the sensationalized nickname “Bionic Chef,” stints on Good Morning America, and an interview with Katie Couric. Despite the robotic attachment’s astounding features—equipped with wireless technology, the hand had individual motors in each finger; flexed when he brushed past people and objects; and could be customized to master specific actions—Garcia later opted for a bionic hook, to improve his deftness in the kitchen.
As Garcia neared the end of his hospital stay, his doctor found a tumor in his abdomen. He had testicular cancer, and it was spreading. He received three months of chemotherapy and is now, thankfully, in remission. When Couric questioned him about the intensity of his situation, Garcia responded with a smirk and a joke: “It was a busy year.”
Despite being physically and emotionally shaken, he never questioned his calling. He’s spent the past few years transforming the property he purchased into an edible forest—a sprawling garden that prioritizes permaculture—and the cabin into a dream home, replete with a light-filled kitchen designed for entertaining and filming. He’s getting to know the land the same way he did when he was a boy: touching, tasting, and getting his hands dirty. “I feel this total immediate need to get this homebody part of me established,” he says, hence his unconventional birthday celebration. “At the end of the day, the property becomes home for the whole group.”
Just when we think we have a firm grip, life takes us where it pleases. Garcia grabbed it right back. He has ambitions and goals, to be certain. But true to form, he’ll allow nature to take its course.