In 2011, Eduardo Garcia’s career as a chef was taking off. After more than a decade cooking on yachts around the world, the Calabasas-born, Montana-raised outdoorsman was running his sauce and seasoning company Montana Mex, pitching a TV series about backcountry cooking, and getting invited to cater top events around the world.
Then one day he went hiking, and everything changed.
When Garcia came upon a bizarre metal box, he pulled out his knife to touch the bear carcass inside. Suddenly, 2400 volts of electricity torched his body, which he managed to guide in a dream-like state to safety, eventually landing via helicopter in a Salt Lake City hospital. Amid a ridiculous number of surgeries — to save his life by fixing his charred head, chest, and thigh, all exit points for the blast of energy — his lower left arm was amputated, he was discovered to have testicular cancer, and his career aspirations all but evaporated.
As a means of catharsis and distraction, Garcia and his good friend/former lover Jennifer Jane began filming the recovery within days of his arrival at the hospital. What ensues in the resulting documentary Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story is a tale of rebirth, reinvention, and remembering how to be grateful for each day.
On October 8, the Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation will screen the film as a fundraiser for its services at the West Wind Drive-In. I recently watched the film — some may recall its world premiere as the opening night event for the 2017 Santa Barbara International Film Festival — and then spoke with Garcia over the phone.
You seem genuinely happy while recovering in the hospital. Were you in shock?
That’s just me. I’ve had to really own that part and not discredit it. It’s miraculous that I didn’t die. When I was put against the mettle and the fire, that just showed how I’m built and further compounds my message, which is to make every day count. You’re building the framework, the groundwork for who you are going to become. Everyone will be put to the mettle at some point and in some way. It always pays to put in the effort. It pays to give it your best.
You’re on camera very quickly after the accident. How’d that come about?
It was definitely Jenny Jane. She knew it and saw it. She knew I’d have questions and she wouldn’t have answers. We had to capture this.
We were already filming and capturing my story as it related to a cooking show. We had already shot a sizzle reel and talked to the Food Network, and had a meeting on October 13, which ironically was the day I had my hand amputated. So it was very natural for us on many different levels to pick up a camera. Let’s just keep capturing. And if this guy lives? It could be so powerful. It was really Jen who had that vision.
There’s hope for the film’s audience that you two would wind up back together.
Jen and I are dear friends that really care about each other. But our personal and business lives have taken different paths. Getting zapped just tanked us. Thank goodness that this film is truly something we are so proud of. It’s allowed a cathartic release that continues to happen. It’s almost a form of therapy for us.
What gave you the most anxiety wasn’t worrying about death; it was worrying about how to be yourself again. Did you find that answer? Are you settled?
I’m as settled as life will allow. But more than settled, it’s been a wake-up call that there is no such thing as settling. That’s kind of the takeaway right now. Every day, you can’t have a conversation without someone referencing how life is different or effed up. But that’s one of the great human eros: just waiting for something to happen and return to normal.
That’s not how nature works. Nature is cyclical and long format, and it also consumes and produces consistently. Waiting for something to return to normal or to settle is a false summit. The more we focus on that, the worse off we may be.
Every day is a wild journey into the unknown. I got married last year, and tomorrow I may get a phone call that changes my trajectory. Just because you have a chicken in the backyard doesn’t mean you’ll get eggs. You can try your best, and then an owl swoops downs for lunch.
What is firing up interest around this film again?
Most documentary films sell out of the gate to HBO or Showtime, or get an up-front package that kicks you off. Or you can go the indie route, which opens up the public support through crowd-funding. We did that purposefully because we believe this film should be a human-powered vehicle that had a classic evergreen value for others. Docs usually peak out of the gate and find their place in the library somewhere. Yet this film continued to find a growing audience year after year, which is a testament to the filmmaker and to the story.
How was your 2017 world premiere at the Arlington in Santa Barbara?
We were super honored to be offered that place in the film festival lineup. To be featured as the opening-night film is a huge deal. Our entire team and families had not seen it yet. To be in a room of 2,000 standing-room-only people, it was electric. We got charged!
What’s the latest on your chef career?
To be honest, I’m drowning a little bit, not due to COVID, thank goodness, but it’s been a helluva 10 years. It’s been hard, man.
Through it all, I’ve been lifting my head up and running a food brand that is nationally available. We’ve been able to hang onto the original dream and create a place for culinary adventures to happen and for real holistic nutrition. I don’t believe a bite of food fills your belly — I believe it fills your cup. We’re leaning into that hard with Montana Mex. We’re grateful to still be around.
My wife and I are working on what it means to be in a marriage, which is beautiful. Outside of that, I’m just a 39-year-old guy who’s trying to navigate, trying to give myself that time to connect and play in the outdoors, and fill my freezer and my pantry.
I’ve always been a hunter and gatherer and forager. In the last five years, I’ve found such payback in the grow-your-own-food space. We’re invested in learning about permaculture, and how we can be doubling down and making every day matter.
411 | Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story screens on Thursday, October 8, at the West Wind Drive-In Theater in Goleta. Gates open at 6 p.m., and the film begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $40, which allows four people in a car; $75, which allows four people plus an appetizer box and dessert for two. VIP tickets, which include preferred parking and better food, are $300 a car. See cottagehealth.org/crhevent2020.
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