Rollins enthralls audience at cook out

Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, May 23, 2019
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Photo by Alastair Baker
Cowboy chef Kent Rollins gives a talk on the history of chuck wagons at Roberts Fire Hall last weekend. The 1902 chuck wagon next to him belongs to cooking partner Rich Herman.

Cowboy chef Kent Rollins was on cooking duties last Sunday at the Roberts Fire Hall as part of a fundraiser for the upcoming Carbon County USA 2019 show on May 25.

Rollins, along with Rich Herman of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, spent the afternoon grilling a Tri-tip steak donated by Stillwater Packing of Columbus.

The mouth-watering delight defined Rollins' 31 years in the business of running a Chuck Wagon and catering to ranchers and cowboys. 

Rollins was “raised ranch.”

“My mother started me cooking when I was 7-8 years, and I always admired the women who would cook without a recipe, just a little of this and a little of that,” he said.  “And it was always the best food in the world. They could take a little bit of something and make it into a whole lot, and it’s something that stuck near and dear to my heart.”

Rollins has always cooked on and off and decided one day to buy a chuck wagon and start cooking for ranches and cowboys.

“They respected me a lot because I’ve done ranching as well, so been on both sides of the fire from the branding fire to the cook fire,” he said. Television spots followed, appearing on ‘Chopped Grill Master’, ‘Chopped Redemption’ and ‘Cutthroat Kitchen.’  

He even appeared on ‘Throwdown! With Bobby Flay’, where he beat Flay with his chicken fried steak.

“I didn’t know he was coming. We were on a ranch in Texas and it was 97 degrees before we ever built a fire. He told me ‘I hear you cook a good chicken fried steak’ and I said ‘I’ve had a lot of practice.’  He said ‘I’d like to challenge you’ and I laughed and patted him on the back and built a fire and he said it was probably the hottest he’d ever been in his life. He is a good guy but he was way out of his element,” said Rollins.

With these TV appearances came changes to Rollins' old West lifestyle.

“My wife took me into the modern ages,” he said. “She asked me one time do you have an email address and I said, ‘yes, it’s Route 1, Box 318’, and she said, ‘that ain’t it.’” 

One of his busiest years saw him on the road for 290 days, feeding over 30,000 people from the chuck wagon.

Collins, making his first trip to Montana, said he chose to take part in the Roberts fundraiser because it was a way to honor Veterans “who did something for our country, we need not ever forget.” 

“It is a great deal. Small communities all over the world are the best places in the world because rural America is still the backbone to me. And I hope it always is,” he said. 

“I’ve been in towns where houses are close together and no one knows their neighbor. We need to share the food and share it with a neighbor.  You may not know him, but knock on the door, everybody likes to eat,” he said. 

Collins comes from Hollis, Oklahoma, and stays busy with his Chuck Wagon business. Later this week he and Herman will be in Missouri for ‘Wagons for Warriors’, an event to honor Veterans. 

The chuck wagon first came into being in 1866 when rancher and trail driver Charles (Chuck) Goodnight designed it to help feed cowboys during long cattle drives through Texas. 

It was the chuck wagon ‘cookie’ who was responsible for making sure supplies lasted and ready water was available. If you were a poor cook you didn’t last long on the trail.

“It was a rough life and still is,” said Rollins. “Sure the groceries have changed and there is better produce, but it’s still the same preparation and methods that old cookie used in the 1880s.” 

“It was a hard life but very rewarding. My dad told me a long time ago, ‘find a job you like, do it well and you’ll never have a job,’” said Rollins.

“And that is the same way to them. It was in their hearts.” 

Rollins is pleased to see people moving back to more traditional cooking.

“The old traditional cast iron pan made a great comeback in the last few years and people want something that will last and be healthy to eat out of.  It’s probably the most versatile item out there. You can use it to fry, bake, sear, anything,” he said.

“People here are still starving for good clean, wholesome entertainment where you can learn something but you can bring a family unit together. My mother always told me, ‘You sit down at a table it ain’t the legs that hold it up, it’s the family around it that binds it together,’” he said. 

“We try to spread that wherever we go.”

Rollins has a monthly column with recipes in Western Horseman magazine and has authored various cookbooks, including his first, A Taste of Cowboy, published in April of 2015, which became the #2 best-selling book on Amazon and is listed in The Top 100 Cookbooks to Own in a Lifetime.