Bertelsen savors life spent on the line

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Whitefish High School senior Robert Bertelsen is going out of the classroom and into the kitchen this summer, working at the Belton Chalet and at his own food truck. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

Thirteen-year-olds can find themselves dreaming about a variety of paths for their futures. For Robert Bertelsen, that was buying and operating a food truck.

Bertelsen, who graduates with the Whitefish High School Class of 2019 on Saturday, followed his dream by purchasing his own food truck four years ago. The business, called Ride or Fry, will specialize in fry bread tacos and operate around Kalispell and Columbia Falls later this summer.

“I planned on starting it when I was 13, because I had a vision that I could open it at that time, but I neither had the cooking skills nor the funds to do it. Now it’s paid off and I’m putting all my money toward the food truck,” he said.

Cooking since that same year, Bertelsen says his first foray into preparing food started when he and his family lived briefly in Costa Rica.

He and his dad were in charge of meals, and in a location where imports are much more expensive than back at home, they had to get creative.

“Cap’n Crunch is $6 for a small box,” Bertelsen remembers. “So it was crepes with bananas and peanut butter.”

Since then, he’s found himself working in a number of kitchens, including Truby’s, MacKenzie River Pizza Co., Whitefish Lake Restaurant and, starting this summer, the Belton Chalet in West Glacier.

It’s the pace of a kitchen that he enjoys, he says.

“I like how it’s not slow. I can’t work at a desk job, I think it’s just too slow for me,” he said. “But at a restaurant you can pretty much go as fast as you want to go.”

Likewise, his pursuit of his very own food truck business came from wanting to be his own boss.

“It kind of sounds rebellious,” Bertelsen said. “I kind of wanted to have my own area I could control and not be told what to do every day. That’s what I wanted, and it just sounds fun to own a business. I know it’s hard, but it just sounds fun.”

In addition to learning in professional kitchens, Bertelsen has received a lot of support from Whitefish High School Family and Consumer Sciences teacher Amanda Matdies.

Since starting at WHS, Matdies implemented the ProStart culinary curriculum and got students involved in Montana ProStart competitions.

Bertelsen last year took third in his culinary team and moved on to compete at the National ProStart Invitational in Providence, Rhode Island.

The year before, Bertelsen was part of a team that attended Big Sky Resort’s fourth annual Vine and Dine events, which pairs top local and special-guest chefs with high school students who participate in ProStart programs around the state and got to work with some high level talent in the industry.

Matdies also vouched for Bertelsen in front of the school board, getting special permission to bring in his personal cooking knives for complicated knife moves that couldn’t been done with the school’s equipment.

“I probably would be nowhere near as good if I didn’t have her showing me what to do,” Bertelsen says.

After graduation, Bertelsen says he’s excited to start at the Belton and learn from his experienced colleagues there. He’ll be working five days a week at the Belton and a day or two on the weekends manning Ride or Fry, he estimates, but the goal is to grow the food truck once the summer season is over.

Through the summer he also plans to take some business courses at Flathead Valley Community College to get things up and running, but he hopes to be serving food by late June.

“Hopefully I’ll make it a bigger business,” he says.

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