What makes a successful food service professional? There has to be more to great chefs than cooking up and serving us sumptuous meals at our favorite restaurants and parties. If you are like me, you may have wondered a few times about the person behind the food – their mindset and thought process. Today’s interview takes you behind the scenes to meet Chef Tony Teems – a Dallas, Texas based food professional – who pretty much has been “cooking” all his life.
Chef Tony Teems was born in Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. “Being the eldest of 8 children in a single parent home I had to take on household duties and responsibilities at a very early age in order to assist my mother and siblings. As the story goes at the age of 4 years my mother found me in the kitchen standing on a chair at the stove stirring a pot of beans. It seems I was meant to become a chef,” reads his bio.
Over the years, Chef Teems has solidified his career in the food industry and is the owner of catering company Chefs like it “Hot”. You will find him on any given day sharing recipes and interacting with several thousand friends on Facebook.
DUNIA: You’ve been in the food business over 40 years, what success lessons have you learned along the way?
Chef Teems: Yes I have worked in the food service industry since 1969, some 45 years. I am amazed at how after all the years, my passion and love for foods – the fire within me – still burns. I haven’t a clue as to what retirement means.
There have been many valuable lessons learned that have lead me on the path towards success. I was trained by talented chefs both European and American, and have worked in some of California’s finest restaurants & prestigious hotels. I actually worked my way up-through-the-ranks beginning as a soda-jerk, pot and dishwasher to food prep cook, finally onto the cooks-line.
There were two chefs in particular who took me under their wings. They both recognized my hunger and desire to succeed. The first and foremost thing I can recall is how I was taught not only about food production, but how to be responsible, dependable, to take pride and ownership in my work, that is what has made the difference in my career.
What are some common misconceptions about food professionals?
Chef Teems: One of the biggest misconceptions is a chef’s title … although he wears one hat, he plays many roles in the kitchen as a leader of men, a teacher, a motivator, one who inspires others to excel. The chef brings out the best in his team. I was taught that I am only as strong as my weakest man.
Another negative is that most chefs are only in it for the paycheck, true we all have to make a living, but there are those of us who consider it an art – culinary arts – in which we use china instead of canvas to create and display our talent. We wholeheartedly put our souls into our work.
What are your favorite kitchen tools to work with and why?
Chef Teems: Every chef/cook’s favorite tool has to be his knifes – they are his right hand, meaning he cannot work without them. Also his work habits and health practices. Not only do we want to cook, we want to serve healthy wholesome eye-appealing foods.
Is there such a thing as food trends? How do you keep up with them?
Chef Teems: Food Trends… yes there are absolutely. Be it a particular food product, marketing tool, food presentation or simply what people are eating at certain times of the year, the best sellers.
These days the consumer – those who come to dine with us – they are not only value conscience, they prefer healthy wholesome meals. That is the growing trend as of now.
I had an employer he and I visited other eateries to see and experience what they were doing in hopes of incorporating their ideas into our restaurant. This is something I have continued to do over the years
As the owner of your own catering company Chefs like it “Hot”, tell us about the importance of good food presentation.
Chef Teems: Food Presentation is paramount. It is everything especially since 90-95% of foods consumed is by eye appeal; we humans eat with our eyes. Also proper placement on plating, portions and consistency – the foods must always be the same.
Which international cuisines are you well versed with? How so?
Chef Teems: We American chefs, those of color, are mostly known and considered for only good ethnic, southern comfort, soul food and barbecue. All of my career I have been determined to put this lie to rest.
I have international experience and talents. It starts with my family heritage – my mother’s father was Jamaican and my father’s parents were creole, this influences my familiarity and ease in dealing with different types of cuisines.
Having worked in French, Italian, Jewish-Kosher, Creole-Cajun and Asian restaurants, I gained an accurate knowledge of many international cuisines. Also, by writing menus as a chef, I gained more knowledge and experience with Caribbean, Spanish, German restaurants and more. I am able to produce many fine cuisines from around the world.
What are some of your 5 year goals?
Chef Teems: My hopes, dreams and goals for the future are now underway. Last year, I relocated from Los Angeles to Dallas, Texas to continue and enhance my career, especially since there is a growing market for a caterer like myself here.
By hopefully March 2016, I plan to publish my first Chefs like it Hot cookbook. There will be chapters devoted to other fine chefs like myself who will contribute one or two of their best recipes and a chapter devoted to Facebook for the many social media friends and followers I have made along the way.