By Molly Priddy, 9-14-12
||Caption: Kevyn Fitzpatrick stands in front of the menu board at Montana Coffee Traders in Kalispell. Fitzpatrick’s lunch specials have become a popular menu item for Saturday customers. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
Kevyn Fitzpatrick has a crystal clear memory of his first successful foray into the world of cooking, though it’s easy to see why: throwing together an emergency omelet to avoid starvation on New Zealand’s highest mountain would likely stick in most people’s minds.
Fitzpatrick, 28, and a buddy were hiking Aoraki Mount Cook along the Mueller Hut trail, on leave from their naval base in Okinawa, Japan. It was a tougher hike than the duo had planned for, and once they got to Mount Cook Village, they learned their eating options were either make their own food or go wanting.
So, he went with a default breakfast dish – “all guys know how to make breakfast,” he said – and, after scrounging through supplies, came up with a mushroom, feta, dill, and smoked-salmon-from-a-can omelet.
“My friend said, ‘This is, like, one of the best omelets ever,’” Fitzpatrick said in an interview last week.
That reaction was enough to galvanize Fitzpatrick to continue cooking, experimenting and researching with his friend and creating more dishes on their own. They began with the basics, such as marinara and Alfredo sauces, and moved on to more complicated fare.
“Something sparked,” Fitzpatrick said. “I had an epiphany that I really, really liked this.”
Back in his hometown after eight years of service – six of those with the U.S. Marines as a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman in combat medicine in Iraq – Fitzpatrick has expanded his repertoire, much to the delight of weekend lunch diners at Montana Coffee Traders in Kalispell.
Every Saturday for the past several months, Fitzpatrick has cooked the lunch special at Coffee Traders, which regulars now know as a rotating selection of authentic Indian cuisine.
He learned the trade from Indian friends in Okinawa and wanted to bring that experience to the Flathead. His goal is to make his dishes accessible, authentic and palatable to people who may not have grown up accustomed to curry and other such fare, Fitzpatrick said.
That strategy seems to be working. On the first weekend he tried it out, Fitzpatrick made 30 servings, which sold out in an hour. Since then, the dishes have only gained popularity.
The most popular dish is the chicken korma, but Fitzpatrick also makes seekh kebabs, palak paneer, and, when he’s feeling like cooking outside the box, red Thai curry with mahi-mahi.
“I’m always trying to make it a little different, a little better each time,” Fitzpatrick said.
A tikka masala dish created by Kevyn Fitzpatrick is seen at Montana Coffee Traders. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
He acknowledged that running the show on Saturdays is an honor for a line cook, and he credits Montana Coffee Traders with giving him the chance to express himself in the kitchen. The company also supports him when they order a non-local ingredient he needs like the mahi-mahi, Fitzpatrick said, because Coffee Traders tries to use as many local ingredients as possible.
Allen Bodeen, kitchen manager at the restaurant, said Fitzpatrick’s dishes are quite popular on the weekends, and believes the authenticity is what keeps people coming back. Bodeen also gave Fitzpatrick’s cooking skills a positive review.
“He’s an excellent line cook,” Bodeen said, adding with a laugh, “I don’t need to babysit him much.”
As he did on Mount Cook, Fitzpatrick has to improvise to be able to create Indian dishes in the Coffee Traders kitchen. He has devised a way to make each one as freshly as possible, even being able to heat and crisp the naan bread without getting it mixed up with all the other flavors on the stove.
Fitzpatrick hopes to go to culinary school, using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to fund his education. Cooking, he has discovered, keeps him grounded, and relieves the tension he still feels after serving in combat in Iraq.
And while a cook always hopes to satisfy his or her customers, Fitzpatrick also hopes to broaden Flathead Valley residents’ food experiences and palates. He’s had customers who have an aversion to new types of cuisine, he said, but if they are willing to try something new, they tend to enjoy it.
“I’ve changed a lot of minds,” Fitzpatrick said.
Montana Coffee Traders serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
[End of article]