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GC: Meet the Top 5 Chefs of the Golden Crescent

Aug. 30, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.


For many, the term chef is associated with the official title that comes from completing a culinary program dedicating countless hours practicing how to dice, saute and braise meats and vegetables for recipes that go back to the middle-ages and bring cooks back to the basics.

For others, however, it may be the love of food that brings the term chef to mind. That everlasting memory of helping mom and grandma roll out dough for a pastry recipe that has been in the family for more generations than one can count on a single hand.

These are the chefs that were nominated for the Golden Crescent's Top Five Chefs.

Ric Tinney

Background: Michigan native and now 16-year Goliad resident, Ric Tinney, 55, is doing exactly what he once told himself he would never do - live and cook in a small town.

He recalled a story with his grandfather when he was done with high school where he never fathomed opening a restaurant of his own.

"My grandfather offered to buy me a little diner in the town we lived in, and I remember saying, 'there was no way I was going to live and cook in a small town.' And here I am."

Tinney is the owner of Leota's, in the carriage house of the Berclair Mansion, and Catering with Panache, and has been working in the Golden Crescent cooking industry for about three years.

But when he's not in the kitchen, you can find him in the classroom. Tinney also serves as a part-time psychology instructor at Coastal Bend College in Beeville. Before he took a spot in the kitchen, he worked in the psychiatric field for 20 years.

Since moving to Goliad, he served on the Goliad Main Street Board; Goliad County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, where he is a past president; and as a Goliad City Council alderman for three terms.

Family:

Daughters, Mariah, 27, Megan, 26; grandchildren, Maci, Dasen, D'Adrian, Maxton

What is your approach to cooking or developing your menus/meals?

My primary food philosophy is "comfort food with a twist." I enjoy foods of the Mediterranean and tend to base my menus on that style most often, but I find that even when I do Mediterranean, I tend to do comfort foods of that region. I view food as an adventure. "If we can't travel there... we can at least taste the food." I attempt to make every dish as authentic as possible with the ingredients that are available to us locally. I handpick ingredients for each dish that we prepare. Our Sunday Brunch Buffet usually consists of 20 or more selections, all fresh and reminiscent of what Mom might have made.

What is your favorite memory of food?

Growing up in rural Southern Michigan, food was always a big part of family. My favorite memory is of big family gatherings when everyone brought dishes to share. There was always something new to try as well as the favorites we always enjoyed. Our Sunday brunch is a reminder to me of those special times, and that is what I hope to share with our customers when they come to dine with us.

Keys to your success:

Determination, hard work and persistence.

Things you can't live without:

I have learned that I can do without many of the things that often we feel we need. What gets me through is what I could not do without: the support and love of my family and friends. Other than that... fresh vegetables and fruit.

What you are passionate about?

Life... Family... Friends... Food... Adventure. There are a number of items on my bucket list (having a restaurant and catering was one of those items)... and my passion is to complete that list in my lifetime.

Patty Scevers

Background: With more than 30 years in the restaurant business, it seemed only fitting that Patty Scevers would some day open up a place of her own. After seven years of sharing the same roof as the Warm Springs Specialty Hospital of Victoria, the Grapevine Café is homage to her hard work.

"I started working in restaurants and I liked the schedule. I liked serving people."

Raised in the Port Lavaca-Point Comfort area, the 52-year-old worked in Port Lavaca, Corpus Christi and Victoria before opening the café. However, she admitted that when she was younger, she wasn't very interested in cooking and that it was her family's interest in cooking that was her inspiration when she began developing her own style.

"We're a family full of cooks, we have a Czech heritage. We do a lot of cooking in our family, which boils down to family gatherings and enjoying each other's company."

In addition to serving hot meals in the hospital, she is a supporter of the Red Cross and cancer-research foundations. She said her family has multiple cancer survivors and donates to cancer-related charities when she can.

Family: Son, Deke, 25 (in restaurant business); grandson, Noah, 7 months

What is your approach to cooking or developing your menus/meals?

You can't beat anything home cooked with lots of fresh ingredients and good spices. I don't use any salt in anything that I cook. I use a lot of pepper, lemon pepper, garlic, Italian seasonings.

What is your favorite memory of food?

My mom and grandma have always been great cooks. They make wonderful strudels, kolaches and homemade soups - everything from scratch.

Keys to your success:

Hard work and agood product every time you serve it.

Things you can't live without:

I can't live without family, coffee and a good piece of cake.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about my work and love of cooking. I also love to work in the yard and with plants, and for fun in the sun, I love riding my Harley.

Robert W. Briggs

Background: Victoria born and raised, Robert W. Briggs said that he always imagined himself working with food.

"I remember thinking in high school, 'that place would be nice, or this place could work,' for opening a restaurant."

What began as a relationship with his mother out of necessity of eating and feeding his sister, he started playing around with recipes. He said he would take his mother's recipes and add two or three items to them.

"I was always in the kitchen, helping my mom cook. Then I started adding things like herbs and spices, and seeing what would work."

The 45-year-old owner of Huvar's Artisan Market and Catering has a packed schedule, on top of serving on Victoria's Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach Board, Trinity Episcopal School Board of Trustees, as president, and as a Volunteer Sunday Morning Cook at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Family: Two sons, Weldon, 12, and Riley, 8; girlfriend, Erica Johnson

What is your approach to cooking or developing your menus/meals?

My approach to my menus has always been fearless and fresh. I am not afraid to try new and exotic ingredients or combine several recipes to make one. I seldom pre-measure out spices or herbs, relying on my eye or taste to add more or less.

The problem I run into with experimenting without following a recipe is that I forget what I put in it. Most of my best dishes are ones I can't always duplicate. Being creative in the kitchen is a form of art to me, as a masterpiece is to an artist. My canvas is food and the representation and flavor are the colors. I research and taste many different recipes until I find the one that pops.

What is your favorite memory of food?

At the young age of 8, I cooked my first egg and cheese omelet for my mother on Mother's Day. This became a tradition every year as I expanded my cooking skills. I then began the art of smoking meats and wild game. A tradition was to roast a whole boar over an open fire every year for a Christmas party in the country. I learned to live off the land and eat what I harvested.

Keys to your success:

Hard work pays off. My father taught me at an early age to work from the bottom up. Learn from your mistakes, love what you do, and use your talents and gifts that God has given you. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty or take some risks.

Success in business really comes down to managing people and treating your employees with respect and gratitude. I am not afraid to ask for help when needed. Some of the greatest skills learned are from listening to others with more experience.

Things that you can't live without:

My family and friends, God and church, the outdoors, a clean kitchen, fresh food, my mountain bike and surfboard.

What are you passionate about?

Being a good father to my two boys, Weldon and Riley, my faith in God, fresh food and creating healthier foods that taste good. And surfing and mountain biking.

Jeff Otto

Background: Victoria born and raised, Robert W. Briggs said that he always imagined himself working with food.

"I remember thinking in high school, 'that place would be nice, or this place could work,' for opening a restaurant."

What began as a relationship with his mother out of necessity of eating and feeding his sister, he started playing around with recipes. He said he would take his mother's recipes and add two or three items to them.

"I was always in the kitchen, helping my mom cook. Then I started adding things like herbs and spices, and seeing what would work."

The 45-year-old owner of Huvar's Artisan Market and Catering has a packed schedule, on top of serving on Victoria's Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach Board, Trinity Episcopal School Board of Trustees, as president, and as a Volunteer Sunday Morning Cook at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Family:

Two sons, Weldon, 12, and Riley, 8; girlfriend, Erica Johnson

What is your approach to cooking or developing your menus/meals?

My approach to my menus has always been fearless and fresh. I am not afraid to try new and exotic ingredients or combine several recipes to make one. I seldom pre-measure out spices or herbs, relying on my eye or taste to add more or less.

The problem I run into with experimenting without following a recipe is that I forget what I put in it. Most of my best dishes are ones I can't always duplicate. Being creative in the kitchen is a form of art to me, as a masterpiece is to an artist. My canvas is food and the representation and flavor are the colors. I research and taste many different recipes until I find the one that pops.

What is your favorite memory of food?

At the young age of 8, I cooked my first egg and cheese omelet for my mother on Mother's Day. This became a tradition every year as I expanded my cooking skills. I then began the art of smoking meats and wild game. A tradition was to roast a whole boar over an open fire every year for a Christmas party in the country. I learned to live off the land and eat what I harvested.

Keys to your success:

Hard work pays off. My father taught me at an early age to work from the bottom up. Learn from your mistakes, love what you do, and use your talents and gifts that God has given you. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty or take some risks.

Success in business really comes down to managing people and treating your employees with respect and gratitude. I am not afraid to ask for help when needed. Some of the greatest skills learned are from listening to others with more experience.

Things that you can't live without:

My family and friends, God and church, the outdoors, a clean kitchen, fresh food, my mountain bike and surfboard.

What are you passionate about?

Being a good father to my two boys, Weldon and Riley, my faith in God, fresh food and creating healthier foods that taste good. And surfing and mountain biking.

Sandy Lee

Background: Based in Bexar County, Sandy Lee works as the food service director for the Bistro Café, a Prince Food Systems company, in the Yoakum Community Hospital. He is in charge of building the menu, purchasing ingredients and keeping the workplace clean, on top of all the paper work and scheduling that goes with the title.

Lee said he didn't have any formal training as a cook, but was introduced at an early age to what good cooking was.

"It was just easy for me. My father was in the restaurant business and my grandmother was a cook. It was very much a family affair."

He was raised in Washington, D.C., then moved to Austin after graduating high school to pursue an education in art history. Lee found himself working at a lunch counter and has been in the kitchen ever since, working in Florida, Washington, D.C., Colorado and various resorts across the country.

When he's not working behind the counter, he donates time and energy to various charities including the Semper-Fi Fund, which supports wounded warriors, and the Patrician Movement of San Antonio, which supports expecting mothers and the babies through drug rehab and people with addiction issues.

Family:

I was married to a pastry chef, who was a great wife as well as my partner, in a fine little cafe called Panna Bellas in Bryan, Texas.

What is your approach to cooking or developing your menus/meals?

I try to find a middle ground to what people like locally. I've worked in a lot of different places. The people who live in San Antonio, their tastes are going to be much different than those people living in Ohio. Finding what people are familiar with and making it with the freshest ingredients and as much flavor as I can.

What is your favorite memory of food?

I have several. One is of my grandmother. She had prepared a version of chicken fricassee, a dish I loved, but was reluctant to eat since her recipe did not include rice. Not a problem. She boiled some potatoes and riced them through a colander. Being about 4 at the time, I took it for magic.

My favorite memory as an adult was being able to prepare a batch of demi-glace, which I presented to my dad and mom for Christmas from a case of veal bones I received from a chef friend. My parents were very impressed.

Keys to your success:

In my career of over thirty years, in assorted venues of cooking, I have made my share of miscues and mistakes. But I have worked diligently to rectify these situations and striven to make the diners happy. In Yoakum, that means our patients. It is my goal to provide them a wholesome, tasty meal to lighten their load. Our team, the entire staff of doctors, nurses, physical plant staff and administration, is all very loyal and focused on service to the Yoakum community.

Things that you can't live without:

My culinary knives. I have a vast collection of knives. If I see one I like, I'll buy it. On my days off, one of my favorite things to do is go to the restaurant supply shop and see what I can find. I have at least 15 to 20 knives in my collection right now.

What are you passionate about?

My passion is flavor, to achieve it in every item prepared or over-seen, no matter the effort or details. I've tried to pass my various techniques and knowledge to my co-workers, to maintain safe and wholesome cuisine.

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