To put ourselves in the right frame of mind for Thursday’s caloric orgy, we plan on bingeing all six episodes of Big Sky Kitchen. Several years in the making, the series showcases Eduardo Garcia’s passion for food, family, and all things festive. And the way it came together reminds us of how our Thanksgiving feasts usually come together. We typically start out with very big plans to create something fabulous and memorable. Then the plans start to fray—a certain ingredient isn’t available; a certain guest renegs on their promise to bring the pumpkin chiffon pie; a certain family member notices, two hours after you put the turkey in, that you forgot to turn on the oven.
You end up with a meal that’s not exactly like the one you set out to create. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s warm and delicious and unique, and there’s a community around the table to share the food and the experience. Which is really what matters.
In broad strokes, that’s how Big Sky Kitchen ended up on Garcia’s platter. We caught up with him earlier this month to get the story behind the show. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length. Get more of Garcia’s story at chefeduardo.com.
How did the partnership with Magnolia Network come together?
Three years ago, I got a phone call from the same production company I was working with on a cooking show back in 2011, when I got electrocuted [and lost my left hand]. They called me up one day and said, “We’re working with Magnolia Network and producing some shows, and your name came up in a meeting. We told them we know you, and they said, ‘Well, reach out and see if he wants to work with us.’”
Your name came up because . . . . the people at the network were familiar with some of your other video work? They were familiar with Montana Mex?
Here’s the way I heard it. Magnolia Network is run by the executive team of Chip and Joanna Gaines. It’s owned by Discovery Channel, but Chip and Joanna run the Magnolia brand. Chip had seen some of my work with YETI Coolers and the Hungry Life series, and Joanna had read about me in a magazine called The Modern Huntsman that is produced by Tyler Sharp. That’s how I think they came to know about Eduardo Garcia.
Once they expressed an interest in working together, how did the premise for Big Sky Kitchen emerge? Was it the same show you’d been working on back in 2011?
That’s a good question. My experience in storytelling and film is really dynamic and variable and ever-changing, because I don’t work in the scripted space. My work in film is non-scripted, so every day it changes. There’s a lot of trial and error. We had a Zoom call early on with Joanna, Chip, myself, and my wife, Becca. We were kind of wrapping up the call, and Chip said: “We may not get it the first time, or the second or third time, but we’ll get it and we got your back. We believe in you, and we believe in what your message is.”
We tried two different shows over the next two years. One of them never made it to air, meaning we filmed an episode but it was never shown on the network. Then we filmed a second pilot that aired December of last year. And that was called Zest for Life. That show had a different concept than Big Sky Kitchen. Zest for Life was about me meeting another person and, through having a meal and a conversation with them, helping both of us finding our best selves. [The show’s synopsis reads: “Chef Eduardo Garcia shares meals with extraordinary people who have overcome life-altering challenges. By sharing their inspiring stories of survival and resilience, they discover the importance of moving forward with a renewed love for life.”]
I was gangbusters about the Zest for Life concept. But ultimately, the network didn’t renew. You can feel so let down and deflated. I thought they would renew. And they said, “We’re not renewing, but do you want the good news?” I’m like, “Yes, please.” They said, “The network has three different categories of shows: DIY, cooking, and feel-good lifestyle stuff. Zest for Life is in the feel-good lifestyle category, and we’re eliminating that whole category. So that’s why we aren’t renewing the show. But we love cooking. We think you’d do a great cooking show. And we want to give you six episodes.”
I thought about it for a week. And one could say, “Well what do you want? You’re a cook, and you’ve always wanted to do a cooking show.” But the truth is, it’s not really that I’ve always wanted to do a cooking show. I’ve always wanted to just create create opportunity for people to feel alive. Sometimes that’s through a cooked in-person meal. Sometimes that’s through a conversation or podcasts. Sometimes that’s through a cooking show like Hungry Life. But I had been really passionate and fired up about Zest for Life because it took the focus off me. It allowed me to use food as this great communicator, this great antidote, this great medicine when times are hard, to open someone up and share whatever’s in their heart so others could benefit by that knowledge. I was really into that concept.
I thought about it for a week. I looked around and realized I’ve had so much support in my career and my life, from a lot of different ways. I said to myself, “After 12 years of trying to have a network show, it may not be as you saw it, but you’ve got an open door here, man.” So we walked through it and out the other side, there was Big Sky Kitchen.
If I understand the timeline, all of this was unfolding during the height of the pandemic. So when you describe food as being a medicine in your life —a point of healing, and maybe even spiritual connection—it makes me think about how everybody got into cooking during COVID. When there was all this illness in the world, people got through it by learning to make sourdough bread, or becoming locavores, or whatever.
I feel like celebrating with yourself in the kitchen has got to be one of the most fundamental exercises we could do every day to really set ourselves up for a healthy life. That’s how it hit me. I found myself grounded, meaning I wasn’t traveling three times a week. I was able to be home with my wife, and we could invest deeper in our farm and our gardens and ourselves.
I have to be conscious with how I speak, because perspective is everything. We were very fortunate during the pandemic, because it brought chaos on the world and systems and peoples. It really encouraged me to focus more on sharing food with others. Our company, Montana Mex, had been sitting on all kinds of recipes for decades that we never really shared. And one of them was a chai tea recipe that we developed for our kids. It’s a respiratory wellness blend, because they’re going to get sick in the winter every year. The pandemic kind of forced us to say, “Why are we brewing this just for ourselves? Shouldn’t we be brewing this for all families?”
Did you find opportunities in Big Sky Kitchen to bring in some of that element of Zest for Life where you’re connecting dots between food and deeper issues?
I think we did. You tell me, you’re gonna have to watch it, but I think we do. It’s got a lot of humanity. It’s got humor. And then of course, it’s a cooking show. So everyone should walk away feeling hungry and inspired to cook.