I'll let him tell you more.
I started cooking at a young age in Mama’s kitchen. And for quite a while my brothers and family thought I was a little strange because I spent so much time in the kitchen. But I had it figured that it was warmer in the kitchen than out feeding cows in the sleet and snow. There were many great women that taught me about food back then and especially how to cook with love. We never had a whole lot growing up, but one thing we had plenty of was love and Mama sure showed it in every meal that she set out on the table. We all figured you better reach quickly because with four kid- you better grab it fast or it was gonna be gone.
I grew up cowboying and managing different cow/camp operations for folks around the county with my dad. In between times I rodeo’d, mainly bull riding. During my teens and into my mid 30’s rodeoing was really my passion. I spent a lot of time preparing and traveling the circuit. I quit bull riding when I was 37; at that point I was the old-timer in the business. I just remember the ground kept getting harder and harder when I hit and I figured it was time to put up the rope. I still miss it.
I got my first taste of outside cooking when I guided elk hunters with my uncle in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. I was in my late 20’s when I headed that way to help my uncle with his outfitting business. We trekked in with mules 21 miles, the farthest point into the wilderness from any direction. We would camp out there three to six weeks at a time. I remember my first trip my uncle threw some Dutch ovens out on the ground and said, “Son I know your Mama taught you how- so you’re the cook!” I had never cooked out of a Dutch oven before and those hunters sure ate a few burnt biscuits until I figured out what was going on!
It wasn’t until my mid 30’s that I decided to take my love for cooking a step further. After cooking in the Gila and enjoying the outdoor aspect of it, I decided to buy a chuck wagon. Growing up, we had eaten a lot of bad food off of wagons, but you never did complain because you’d be the next cook! After my experience in the Gila I knew it was the perfect way to combine my love of cowboying with cooking and the outdoors. In 1993 I bought the wagon and began cooking for working ranches. Soon word got out and I cooked for more ranches, and then family parties, birthdays, then corporate events and it took off from there. Now my wife Shannon and I travel the country cooking for folks, sharing history and holding cooking demonstrations and schools.
The chuck wagon is truly a living piece of history. Although the trail drives of the past are extinct due to modern trucking, cooking for ranches is still a tradition that goes on today. As long as there is a cow there will always be a need for a cowboy, and as long as there is a cowboy, someone has to be there to feed them. It’s not a glamorous job by any means, and there’s a reason there aren’t many full time cookies out there. You are in Mother Nature’s kitchen and you are always at her mercy. I’ve cooked in everything but an earthquake and the way Oklahoma is going I bet it won’t be long until I cook in one of those too! But there’s nothing better than seeing a cowboy smile when you pull the lid off a Dutch oven for dessert or see the sun rise over a remuda.
There is also a great responsibility that comes with camp cooking. My wife and I are not only responsible for feeding those fellers but to make them feel welcome and to make it feel like home. The nights are short and the days are long out on the range and it’s pretty easy to get homesick. That’s why Shannon and I have to create a home away from home and the best way to do that is through good food. I’ve been burnt, bruised, had the wagon fly rip in two, got caught in a hailstorm that flooded the teepee, but every time the clouds clear or someone says, “Hey Kent that’s the best thing I ever ate!” Well, all that other stuff doesn’t matter so much. We are very blessed to get to do what we do in God’s country. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
My advice to anyone thinking they want to get into this line of work is - you better be a little crazy. ‘Cause it’s crazy that ‘s gong to get you up at 2:45 every morning to make biscuits and it’s crazy that will get you through cooking in a blizzard, but if it’s in your heart then you best get after it. I remember when I quit my full time job with benefits and insurance to cook on the wagon. My family all told me I was crazy, but I didn’t want to look back one day and think what if.
Where to find Kent online!
FB: Kent Rollins (chef)
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