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Going with the Flow: How Chris McDonald Worked His Way to Head Chef

Cowfish Restaurant

The fast pace of restaurants is something Chris McDonald has been drawn to since he was a child growing up in Lander, Wyoming. After working a variety of jobs in a number of restaurants, the now head chef of Lander’s Cowfish restaurant gets to pursue his passions – both work and play – in the state he loves.

Chris first experienced what restaurant workers call “the flow of service” when his Boy Scout troop served hamburgers out of a camper at the local rodeo. The pace of tickets coming in and preparing food was something he just liked. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” he said.

After high school, Chris spent a few years living near family in Des Moines, Iowa, where he attended community college and got a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant where his aunt worked. This, plus a job at a local brewing company, helped him make ends meet while learning about the restaurant world. Chris continued gaining valuable experiences at a variety of restaurants over the years before deciding he preferred Lander to Des Moines.

Back in Lander, Chris ran a small diner-type restaurant and later worked as a chef at Gannett Grill. He’s held his current position as head chef at Cowfish for over a decade.

While head chef is definitely a role to aspire to, Chris felt at home in each restaurant position he held.

“The thing about a restaurant is you’re kind of like a spoke on a wheel,” Chris said. “Everyone is working toward one goal, which is to make the best food possible.”

Chris loves the family environment of his restaurant and helping all of his employees feel proud of what they do even if they don’t want to make a career out of it. Some people might want to rock climb in the mornings and work afternoons. Some might want to serve tables while going to school. The way he sees it, restaurant positions provide a means for people to achieve their goals, whatever they may be.

“I like creating confidence in people that they can take with them the rest of their lives,” Chris said. “If you can do good here, you can do good anywhere.”

And as for Wyoming? Chris believes that if you want to work your way to a top restaurant position, it’s a common path to go from dishwasher to head chef in the Cowboy State. If your goal is to spend more time outside, Wyoming is the perfect place for that, too.

Hiking, fishing, rock climbing – Wyoming offers plenty of outdoor spaces to get away from the stresses of everyday life. “It’s almost like you can open your door and your backyard is 300,000 acres,” Chris said. “There’s a freedom that comes with that. It’s refreshing to me. Two hours a day in traffic? That’s two hours a day I can find something to do.”

Find a career in Wyoming hospitality


  • Culinary focus – ProStart allows you to work and learn
  • UW program focuses on outdoor rec, tourism and hospitality
  • Community colleges offering Hospitality and Tourism Management certifications and degree
  • Community colleges offering Outdoor Recreation certifications and degrees

Towering mountains. Rushing rivers. Welcoming communities.