WILLIAMSTOWN -- Hobson's Choice was a restaurant before current chef and owner Dan Campbell ever showed up, but it had gone out of business and had been dark for a year by 1991 when he arrived on the scene.
Campbell grew up in the Berkshires, graduating from Mt. Greylock High School in 1971. He moved to Montana and became a chef, wh4ere he was happily working until his 20th high school reunion brought him back to Williams town, for what would be an improbably life-changing visit for two reasons.
Campbell's father, working in real estate at the time, had told him about a restaurant that was worth looking at.
"I figured I could run it for five years, sell it, and move back to Montana," said Campbell.
Now over two decades later, Campbell remains here. But that's largely due to the other big change that coincided with Campbell's return -- he met an old high school classmate, who he ended up marrying and having a child with.
"The roots reached up and grabbed me," joked Campbell. "It was a productive 20th re union; I got a restaurant and a wife out of the deal."
With a gourmet chef as a mother, Campbell was sur round ed by cooking at an early age, stealing shrimp from the kitchen and reading the gourmet magazines on the coffee table. When he moved to Mon tana, he found it easy to start right in with little experience.
"It was a really popular restaurant so basic and simple it blew me away," said Camp
Yet in spite of his menu-ex panding tastes in Montana, Camp bell has returned to a more simple philosophy of cook ing focused on buying good ingredients with minimal altera tions, rather than trying to bridge the gap with complex sauces.
Campbell sums up his philosophy as "buy the best, cook it lightly, enjoy the hell out of it." Most recently, he has been enjoying a simple steak with a bit of salt and pepper thrown on the grill.
"This rib-eye we've been getting from a conglomerate of ranches in Colorado is free-range, grass-fed, humanely treated, no hormones, no anti-biotics. People have been raving about it. I've only been doing it for three weeks, and I've already had five or six different people come up to me and say it's the best steak they've ever eaten in their life."
The Montana influence has still stayed with Campbell, in the form of a penchant for Cajun flavor. He considered Montana a "forward, very young, adventuristic audience," who appreciated Cajun blackening and BBQ shrimp, a spicy flair that informs his cooking. Still, he says that his cooking style has slowly matured over the years in what he describes as an evolution, not revolution, in cooking. In some sense, he believes his focus to be somewhat of a cycle, having now returned to appreciation of the simplicity that he began with in Montana, and fresh ingredients.
"I do like to use as much local home-grown stuff as I can, mostly the vegetables," he said. "And, producing really high-quality seafood for the people. I used to do swordfish, and to me that's still politically unsound, we don't do swordfish anymore. I keep an ecological view on wild cod instead of farm raised, trying to do things sustainable when possible."
When it comes down to it though, Campbell just wants to cook food people like.
"What I ask for in prayer is that I get lots of people to come in and that my skills and abilities make them very happy; just to give them a wonderful experience in the eating is a joy to me," he said.