Leo Garcia, Executive Chef at Midland (Texas) Country Club, was recently named the Texas Chef Association Permian Basin Chapter’s Chef of the Year, the Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram reported.
When Alejandro Barrientos interviewed for a job in the Midland Country Club kitchen, Garcia asked him if he wanted to be a cook or a chef. After the Odessa College culinary arts student replied that he wanted to be a chef he was hired on the spot.“When I hired him he didn’t know how to use a knife,” Garcia said. “I honestly thought he was going to quit that first week.”
More than two years later, Barrientos is sous chef at Midland and having graduated from the culinary arts program at Odessa, he plans to return as an instructor in the fall. He credits Garcia for his success, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
“A lot of chefs around this area they look for a body to fill the space, they really don’t take the time out to teach,” Barrientos said. “(Garcia) can see the best in you (and) he wants you to be better.”
Garcia, 34, has been with Midland Country Club since 2008. He started out as a sous chef and moved up to executive chef after about 18 months, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
A native of Mexico City, Garcia came to the states when he was 14. His interest in cooking was sparked when he was 8 or 9 years old and his older brother took a job as a sous chef. Garcia worked in California and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Arizona when he was 21. At 23 he took on his first executive chef position at a French restaurant in Arizona. He still enjoys French cooking, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
“Here at Midland Country Club I try to mix a little French style and also a little West Texas style—big steaks and stuff like that,” he said.
Garcia’s job doesn’t stop with creating menu specials or making sure the kitchen is running smoothly during the dinner rush. He also does his own ice sculptures, 95 percent of the wedding cakes served at the club, weekly fruit and cheese sculptures, wine and beer dinners and occasional cooking classes for club members, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
“I’m in charge of 100 percent of the food,” he said.
Garcia is passionate about keeping up with new techniques and learning new recipes and food trends and spends his free time reading, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
“When I get home, I’m having dinner and I’m reading. I go to sleep and I’ve got a book in my hand; when I wake up I’ve got a book in my hand,” he said. “If I’m going to do something, I try to do it better.”
He shares that passion with his staff, rewarding their hard work with books, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
“What I do is I say we’re going to help these guys to get a little more education,” he said. “Maybe sometimes they’re not going to get the education with us, but we can give them the tools and that way they can be better.”
Sharing stories of his employees’ successes, Garcia’s pride is palpable. “It’s very nice because I have a few guys who used to work with me who were cooks and a couple of those guys are already sous chefs at other places,” he said, recalling a phone call from a former cook who moved up into a sous chef position at a Chicago country club, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
“I promise if you stay here with me two years, after you leave you’re going to be fine,” Garcia said. “When you go to another place and move on I want you to be better.”
That promise has held true for Barrientos as he prepares to start his job as instructor at Odessa College, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
“Here sometimes we had to be the baker, we had to be the saute cook because we were shorthanded. It’s been a real-life experience,” he said. “(Garcia) actually pushes for you to be a better chef.”