Chef: Eric Trager

Restaurant: Carbon County Steakhouse, Bogart’s Pizza, Red Lodge Pizza Co., all in Red Lodge.

Background on the restaurants: I am executive chef of all three. I spend most of the time at Carbon County Steakhouse, which is the lead restaurant for Red Lodge Restaurants.

Hours for the Carbon County Steakhouse: Dinner is served seven nights a week from 4:30 to 9. Reservations are suggested by calling 446-4025.

Address: 119 S. Broadway.

Background in cooking: I have been here for a year. Before that I was the chef at Bridge Creek for 14 years. I was intrigued by the challenge of managing three restaurants. Before I moved to Red Lodge, I was a sous chef in Colorado and worked in Napa, Calif. I am originally from Massachusetts and zigzagged my way across the country. I got my culinary degree at Paul Smith College in New York. It’s the only culinary school that has a cross-country ski team. In culinary school, I was the only one in my group who had never cooked in a restaurant. The instructor rolled his eyes. But I made it as apprentice on the culinary team my first year and I was on the team the next year. Whatever they told me, I did.

What is your restaurant’s most popular dish? I can’t take credit for this because it’s been on the menu for years, but it’s the cowboy rib-eye steak. It’s coffee-rubbed with a sweet coffee sauce.

What new items are you cooking up? I just won the chowder contest at ZooMontana with my blue cheese and steak chowder. I am adding that to the menu. I am also working on a seared salmon with three layers of sauce on it. I’ll call it Triple Tasting Salmon. I like things sweet at first so I’ll start with a sweet basil sauce. Then you want a savory. I am making a roasted tomato sauce. Then you bring in the salty when your palette gets bored. I’ll make a black olive sauce. I like full flavor and changing the flavor.

What cooking advice do you have? Food is organic. It’s never going to be the same. If you have a tomato vine-ripened from your garden, it doesn’t need a thing. But if you have a tomato that was picked green, you have to transform it with salt or an acid to bring out the flavor. Knowing the cuts of meat is also important. There is a science to food. If you cook a tenderloin like a pot roast, it will be stringy.