By LAUREN SHUN/Montana State News

“Cooking isn’t a job for me; it’s my passion,” said Evan Walcher.

While most college students spend time thinking about classes and exams, 21-year-old Montana State student Evan Walcher spends the majority of his time thinking about cuts of meats, seasonings, and proper plating techniques. Evan is the youngest grill cook at the high-end restaurant Open Range in Bozeman.

“The average age of the chefs around me is 28,” Walcher said. “Most are on salary.” This separation of age and experience has never made much of a difference to Evan or to those cooking around him.

Experienced chef Chef Roosevelt, 47, has been in the restaurant industry for over 23 years. Roosevelt works closely by Evan on the line most nights and like many others, Roosevelt is impressed by Evan’s skills at such a young age. “For Evan’s age, no one could be doing what he is doing for this restaurant.”

On any given Friday night, Walcher will make between 80-100 dishes. He is primarily responsible for cooking the proteins on the menu: the steak, chicken, and pork dishes – the hardest dishes to master.

“Especially pork,” Walcher said. “Pork chars so easily. The rib-eye is my favorite to cook. It’s the best cut of steak.”

The menu at Open Range challenges any chef. “The menu changes every day. You have to adapt to new dishes every shift. It takes a couple of tries to get the dish perfect,” said Walcher.

This intricate knowledge of food for a 21-year-old may come as a surprise to some, but for those who know Walcher, it’s not shocking in the least. His mother, Diana, remembers when she first knew Evan had a gift for cooking.

“I thought Evan was going to be a chef when he was 14 and the store had shark. Evan really wanted to get it. I said, ‘Evan I have no idea how to cook shark’ Evan said, ‘I’ll cook it’ and he did! He marinated it and it was awesome,” said Diana Walcher.

With such a natural instinct for cooking, it is a wonder why Walcher decided to attend Montana State University for business after high school, instead of jumping straight into the restaurant business.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was applying for college,” Walcher said. “Getting a job at Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant sophomore year helped me find what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Walcher started as a dishwasher and steadily climbed the ranks to become an assistant manager at Ferraro’s, until he left to be a line cook for Open Range. Similarly at Open Range, he started at appetizers, but after proving himself, became one of their most valued line cooks.

This passion for food is evident for those who know Walcher. His mother said, “I see Evan expanding his restaurant skills and learning all he can to be a successful restaurant owner. I see him as a restaurant owner in maybe seven, 10 years.”

What goal is Walcher striving towards in the restaurant industry?  He said, “I want to be a sous chef in New York City in 5-10 years.”

If Evan continues advancing and learning in the restaurant industry at the pace he is going, that dream may be achievable.

– Edited by Alex Heidema

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