By Rachel Hergett EBS COLUMNIST
When I think of Alex Hrabovsky, a photo from our college years comes to mind. We’re at a black tie house party, joined by our friend Grant, and have stolen the garnish from someone’s appetizer plate to serve as silly mustaches for the picture.
Hrabovsky has been on my list of ideas for this column since its inception, and not just because he can rock a killer lettuce mustache. Though taken almost two decades ago when Hrabovsky was studying philosophy at Montana State University, the photo gives me a glimpse into his current world.
Hrabovsky has come a long way since he first learned how to bake a cake in his high school home economics class, fascinated that he could create a cake out of simple ingredients — and for cheap! While in college, he worked his way through increasingly fancy Bozeman kitchens, MSU catering, Pickle Barrel and Cafe Fresco among them. But it would be an ultimate frisbee tournament in Las Vegas that led him to pursue more education as a chef.
While friends pocketed their winnings from the tables after the tournament, Hrabovsky took his cash to Joël Robuchon’s restaurant, indulging in what remains the most expensive meal of his life, and the most life-changing.
“That dinner made me realize the difference between cooking and culinary arts,” Hrabovsky said.
From there, he went to Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco and worked his way through restaurants in the Napa and Sonoma valleys, picking up a love of fresh, seasonal ingredients and the knowledge of how to work with local food purveyors.
It makes sense to me that Hrabovsky has landed as the chef at Bodhi Farms’ Field Kitchen Restaurant, which boasts a serene outdoor locale and a “food mantra” on its website:
“Every plate that we serve you has a story rooted in the history of our surroundings as well as our local community,” it reads. “The philosophy of sustainable cooking is at the core of all of our culinary creations.”
The sun was still blazing when I got to Bodhi Farms on Monday night to watch Hrabovsky in the kitchen. He was on hour 12 and his third pot of coffee, but in good spirits. Gone, he said, are the days when staff are willing to take the abuse of chefs to keep the kitchen running. Hrabovsky prefers to lead by example. He knows that the best food is made by people who love what they are doing.
Hrabovsky asked if I wanted to try the food, and while I salivated over the giant cast iron skillet heaping with veggies and a roast of Wickens Ranch beef, it was too hot for me to be very hungry. I asked for the gazpacho starter, and Hrabovsky brought my chilled soup with the hummus plate on the side. The night before my Bodhi Farms visit, I made a blanket statement that I don’t like hummus. Hrabovsky proved me wrong with his white bean and za’atar version. It wasn’t heavy like garbanzo hummus and the charred broccoli to dip was the perfect accompaniment.
Hrabovsky showed me around the farm, offered some excess garlic to take home, and recounted culinary triumphs and adventures (think bears and other wildlife visiting the Field Kitchen). It was nice to see that he’s still that same guy I knew way back when, and would probably still rock a lettuce mustache if asked.
When I got back into town, a couple people commented that they didn’t know Bodhi Farms’ restaurant was open to the public. It is.
Dinner is served from 5 to 8 p.m. daily, and brunch is served Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are recommended at www.bodhi-farms.com. Bodhi Farms is also hosting a Montana Farm to Table Festival on Wednesday, July 26, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The farm and event space is located at 13624 S. Cottonwood Rd. outside of Bozeman.
I’m excited to try more from Hrabovsky and the local chefs and purveyors that will join the festivities. I’ll definitely be back, especially because I forgot the garlic.