Photo credit: Spencer Stanek

Near Death, New Life: Electrocuted Chef Eduardo Garcia on Never Losing Joy

Energy: You can’t create it, you can’t destroy it, and it moves from one form to another. Nobody knows this better than Eduardo Garcia.

In 2011, Garcia was hunting outside his home in Montana when he stumbled across a curious sight. Peering inside a halved oil drum, the glint of claws and fluff caught Garcia’s attention. He had stumbled on the remains of a baby bear. He did what anyone passionate about the outdoors would do. With curiosity, he pulled out his knife and gave it a poke.

What he didn’t know was that the barrel marked an exposed-but-forgotten electrical box. As he touched the bear, the metal knife drew 2,400 V from the hidden line, arcing the massive current up through his body before it grounded.

eduardo garcia hunting
Photo credit: Steven Drake

Following the path of least resistance, the current coursed through his vessels, nerves, and muscles, leaving a trail of wreckage through Garcia’s body. A bolt exploded out his torso, obliterating four ribs in his chest. His leg had a severe exit wound. And his hand, taking the brunt of the energy, was so badly damaged that surgeons had to remove his left forearm.

The fact we are speaking with Garcia today is nothing short of a miracle. But we are thankful we’re able to hear his story of recovery — and how his curiosity and passion have formed his incredible life.

Being an outdoor professional would be a dream job for many of us. But it doesn’t come easy. Follow along as we go directly to the source and learn from pros like Eduardo Garcia about their success, careers, families, and passion projects “In Real Life.”

‘Charged’ for Life

If you haven’t watched Garcia’s documentary, “Charged (and we highly recommend you do!), you can’t help but notice how Garcia radiates optimism. You immediately see it in the film’s opening scene. Laid flat out on the hospital bed, Garcia’s head, torso, legs, and forearm are all bandaged. Tubes poke out from his wary body. Physically, he’s living by a thread.

It would be easy to assume that given the situation, Garcia could fall quickly into a consumingly negative slump. Instead, beaming in sharp contrast to the grim scenario, he’s joking with his medical staff, friends, and family. Garcia’s smile illuminates the room.

Eduardo Garcia at home cooking
Photo credit: Becca Skinner

Garcia describes his experience in slow, precise words with the wisdom of a Taoist monk. “If it can be said that Eduardo Garcia is incredibly positive, think of it as a byproduct of incredible pain and sorrow. Like how you can bite your tongue on the best meal you’ve ever had.”

Or at the most basic elements, how protons balance electrons inside every atom. “The two don’t live separate lives; pain and joy are one and but the same.”

Cue the mic drop.

Garcia speaks in metaphors that float like a butterfly. They flutter throughout the conversation but always land on point with executed grace.

He recounts a story from a recent hunt, where he came across a quirky tree. It had been repeatedly bashed down before finding its way back upright.

In the process, the tree’s trunk grew in a complete 360-degree loop. “The lodgepole pine had enough life force to continue doing what it does best — to thrive, grow — be the best badass tree it can be.”

If nature teaches us anything, it’s the will to survive — nature doesn’t give up. So, why should Garcia?

Shared Energy

Garcia embraces his work with the same kind of positive energy. He recounted one of his first breakthrough gigs, where he was hired as a chef for a high-end yacht, the largest job he’d ever brokered.

Within the first week, after hearing his client’s culinary tastes, he immediately knew he wasn’t the right chef for the job. Sure, he could have cooked what the client wanted, but “the cooking didn’t spark my passion. The boss deserved a different chef.”

Garcia reflects on that decision as a pivotal moment in his life. And he encourages those who surround him to live life with that same fervent energy.

“My experiences are enriched with the thing [individuals] bring.” His co-workers introduce a unique energy that no one else can bring. It’s the special sauce to his brand, and it feeds his life.

Outside his busy food brand, Montana Mex, and his outdoor cooking series, YETI’s Hungry Life, Garcia is active with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). CAF is an organization that provides opportunities and support to people with physical challenges. Working with the organization, Garcia receives more than he gives.

Before his involvement, he’d wear his prosthetic everywhere, even while running. It was a crutch. At a CAF sponsored race, a young participant introduced himself, looked at Garcia’s prosthetic arm, and bluntly asked, “You gonna run with that?”

The young athlete knew that by shedding the weight, he would run faster. But it was deeper than that. “I guess I hadn’t come to terms with [my prosthetic] yet. It’s great to live life without the baggage we carry on ourselves.”

The power of his community and friendships have contributed to his continued recovery. They keep him grounded. So he ferociously protects his relationships.

While he still gets outside, he doesn’t go out solo much anymore. “Even with all the devices, it is undeniably safer to travel in the woods with a buddy. I recognize how much I’ve been given, and do my best to walk the line to be as safe as possible,” he says, paying respect to the time others have invested in his life and his recovery.

Eduardo Garcia cooking
Photo credit: Becca Skinner

Curious Mind

Some may say it’s best to let sleeping bears lie. If you play in nature, you appreciate its beauty, both large and small. Garcia opens up and defends his choice early that fall morning: “As an outdoorsman, nothing is off-limits outside. It’s the ultimate freedom.”

Like a lot of us, wild spaces invigorate Garcia. It’s his church, and he’s a devout parishioner who regularly attends to (in his words, not ours) “catch its current.” Little did he know the lesson would be a totally different thing that day.

But it’s precisely his curiosity of the natural world that inspired Garcia’s career. Before his life as a celebrity chef personality on YETI’s Hungry Life, before founding his company, Montana Mex, and long before his incident, Garcia was a curious child, immersed in Montana’s outdoors.

Whether hunting, fishing, or selling the fish he caught, “Montana was the canvas. And food, it was a part of our every day. It was beautifully obvious that food was abundant outside.”

Curiosity continues to play a pivotal role in his life today. Easily distracted by shiny objects, he can be immersed in a hunt — focused on tracking an elk — when with the flip of a switch, he’s inexplicably drawn with a childlike fascination to “a cobweb illuminated by dew. Nature trips me out!”

That is to say, Garcia finds inspiration in all forms and follows his curiosity. “All we need is a spark to start that curious process of discovery.”

Stymied by the enormity of a dream? Garcia explains it with a metaphor, of course.

“Like a pearl, it starts with the smallest contribution.” He encourages people to follow their curiosity and passion, and start small. “Start with a small win. If you are interested in foraging, pick up a local book! Try to find a local patch. There are so many ways to get started.”

Naturally, Garcia does what he loves, and positions himself where he’s happiest. “Be where you want to be, do what you want to do. It can happen in tiny ways; let that be an example of your work.”

Be true to yourself. Follow your curiosity. Do it with passion. Who knows, it might just be the next big thing.

At the Office

Food, life, movement — to Garcia, it’s all part of the same conversation. Helping YETI (maker of large, durable coolers capable of hauling huge harvested game from deep in the bush) connect the dots from the field to the table was instinctual. YETI saw Garcia’s vision immediately and invited him to pitch a show, which we can thankfully all watch on YETI’s channel.

As a child growing up without means and having worked as a chef on yachts, where means flow overboard, YETI’s story speaks to a higher product. One you can’t buy.

“I could speak about their Tundra cooler or stainless line, but my favorite piece isn’t the hardware. It’s the heartbeat.” Garcia said that it’s YETI’s commitment to its customers’ passion for sport that inspires him to pursue excellence in his work. “And you can’t really put a price on that.”

Garcia is quick to acknowledge that his injury turned the spotlight on him. It was less of a wakeup call, but “more of a double down!” he said. “I witnessed how quickly life changes and decided there was no time to waste.”

And Garcia is wasting no time. With COVID, his focus has shifted toward the interests of cooking from home. And he has an upcoming untitled project with Magnolia Network coming out in 2021. “Details are still being ironed out, but this will be a primary focus for me in 2021, and I am super jazzed to share it with the world.”

We can’t wait to follow.

Tools of the Trade: YETI Tundra 65 Hard Cooler

YETI’s most versatile cooler, the Tundra 65, is at home in the backcountry as much it is at your backyard barbecue. This ice chest has plenty of room to hold your harvested meat from the field, limit of redfish, or your prized brisket. Built to be nearly indestructible, the Tundra 65 goes as hard as you do and comes back asking for more.

See More of the YETI Tundra 65

This article is sponsored by YETI as part of the brand’s “In Real Life” content series.