When invited to feast at coastal California’s Garrapata Trout Farm, out-of-town celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Kim Novak and Joan Fontaine have no trouble finding the place. Driving along the narrow stretch of Pacific Coast Highway between Carmel and Big Sur, they simply look for the huge metal trout which, on festive occasions, is placed atop Garrapata’s main gate like some strange speckled weathervane. Their host: Garrapata owner Dick Mack, 50, a Hemingwayesque sportsman-scientist-entrepreneur. Among other achievements, he was one of the first Americans to see the approach to Mt. Everest later used by Sir Edmund Hillary, and is generally credited with starting the backpacking craze in the U.S.
Mack’s current passion, however, is fish. Garrapata furnishes a hundred-odd restaurants and gourmet shops from New York to Hawaii with smoked steelhead trout. “Only 10 percent of Americans eat fish and only 5 percent really enjoy it,” says Mack, who decries the diet of vegetable proteins derived from wheat, soy bean, rice bran, alfalfa and barley generally fed to commercially-raised trout. “Those are the makings of bread,” he explains, “and that is just what most trout tastes like: bread!”
Since his steelhead trout, along with salmon and striped bass, spend a part of their life cycle in salt water and only return to fresh water to spawn and breed, Mack feeds them a more natural diet of ground fresh anchovies, cod, squid and tiny crustaceans from the nearby Pacific. Nor does Mack allow his product to be frozen. “Frozen trout is introduced into a super-cold solution of antifreeze to make it stiff and easier to clean with automatic viscerating machines,” he notes. “No wonder they have no flavor!”
Mack has been a wildlife freak since boyhood. The son of a wealthy Wall Street broker who retired to Carmel, Mack spent high school summers as a wildlife guide on the McKenzie River in Oregon and went on to major in anthropology at Yale. He soon became a mammalogist with the Smithsonian, and in 1948 went along on the first American expedition to Nepal and Everest. Intrigued by the Sherpa system of toting heavy loads high in the Himalayas on their backs, Mack returned to the U.S. and designed portage equipment that evolved into the mass market backpack. His Himalayan Industries sold hundreds of thousands of backpacks before he was bought out in 1969 for over $1 million.
Prior to settling down to start the Garrapata Trout Farm two years ago, Mack ran the largest rice farm in California and led expeditions collecting mammals throughout the world. For adventure around his hilltop house at Big Sur, Mack still enjoys hunting wild boar with bow and arrow.
Recently divorced from his third wife, textile heiress Bokara Legendre, Mack is now working with major power companies on a project that would use the warm-water discharge of hydroelectric plants to raise salmon, trout and striped bass. Indeed, he insists that fish can solve the world’s food shortages. “It takes 15 to 20 pounds of protein feed to produce one pound of eatable beef protein,” he points out, “compared to one pound to produce one pound of live fish protein.”
Mack is in deadly earnest about ending world hunger, but that does not keep him from being a generous host. While he cheerfully mans the grill, his guests wander around the alder-fringed fish ponds sipping white wine and nibbling from plates heaped with corn on the cob, salad and—of course—helping after helping of golden Big Sur trout.