We Asked Ten Plano Chefs: Who Inspired You to Cook?

Inspiration that leads to a lifelong career choice can come from anywhere and can strike at any time. It can come from a family member, a friend, a respected neighbor, even a local celebrity. We asked ten notable chefs at the helm of restaurants in Plano who inspired them to start cooking or to consider cooking as a profession.

John Tesar (bottom left corner) at Club Pierre in the 80s
John Tesar (bottom left corner) at Club Pierre in the 80s

John Tesar
Knife Steakhouse and Knife Burger

Who inspired you to cook?

I worked in this French restaurant, Club Pierre, when I was 17 years old in the Hamptons. Pierre Bouvet and Alain Guiguet-Doron were two gentlemen that had come from the south of France. [The restaurant owners] owned a large part of Manhattan and they brought these two amazing chefs from France. 

Pierre was really instrumental in giving me that opportunity and insight. It was just being in the right place and the right era. In the early 80s American chefs really didn’t go to Europe for training. Prior to that, it was a vocational field.

Being exposed to real restaurateurs who had worked in Swiss hotels and went to restaurant school [influenced me]. You know, it was a profession to them, whether it be front of the house, back of the house, pastry chef. This was a lifetime. It was a career.

That’s where I really got my start and truly the influence to become a professional chef and the support and the feedback. [Working in a restaurant that was] kind of ahead of the curve and being supported by these two European guys, that really was special.

Having been in the restaurant world [in the 80s], Wall Street was on fire and celebrities were everywhere and the restaurant was just packed with famous and influential people. And that had an effect on my career, too, because those are the type of people that go out in the world and talk about you. 

Knife Steakhouse > Knife Burger >

 

Ryan Carbery
Ryan Carbery

Ryan Carbery
Farmbyrd

Who inspired you to cook?

The biggest influence on me becoming a chef was not just one person but many people collectively in my family. My dad owned and operated restaurants and he would take me to work with him, and when he would be busy dealing with the day to day responsibilities, I would wander through the wild world of a restaurant in its “off hours.” My aunt and uncle are both well-respected chefs who I would see cooking as a kid, not just for work but for our family dinners. I had the ability to work for both my aunt and uncle beginning when I was 15 and I was hooked. 

What’s the first dish you remember making on your own?

My family background is predominantly Irish and Lebanese, but I do not remember many Irish staples that we grew up eating other than some cabbage and potato recipes. I remember my mom cooking this Lebanese dish that was very similar to “hushwee.” I remember starting to cook this recipe, or really attempt this recipe, around eight years old.   

What is your go-to meal to make at home for yourself or your family?

My kids have gotten a little bit older, but the Sunday morning staple has always been Mickey Mouse pancakes. It really depends on what time of the year it is and what is going on with our kids. If we have soccer, dance, or something with school it will be a pasta or a quick sauté. 

Is there another restaurant in Plano where you love to eat?

I eat at a Vietnamese restaurant quite a bit called Pho Mac, and I like what the fellas do over at Sea Breeze down the street from Farmbyrd. Chef John Tesar and the team at Knife/Knife Burger is a great addition to Plano, as well as Chef Omar Flores with Whistle Britches and Chef TJ Lengnick over at Dee’s Prime Steakhouse [in Frisco].

Farmbyrd >

 

Justin Yaokum with his mother
Justin Yaokum with his mother

Justin Yaokum
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse

Who inspired you to cook?

This one is easy, my mom. When people ask me, ‘Oh you’re a chef? What’s your favorite thing to cook?’ I often say, ‘Anything that resembles my mom’s cooking.’ Her passion to cook is one I only wish I could compare to. Even after being victim of an aneurism followed by a stroke and losing most of the use of her right side, she will still get in the kitchen and throw down. Keep in mind, my mother is right handed, but chopping, peeling, and dicing are all now done with her left hand. She is the one I look up to the most in this industry because she never let any of her handicaps set her back.

What’s the first dish you remember making on your own?

Probably the Thai version of pho or rice noodle soup.  In Thailand it is called kway teow. I believe I was four.

What is your go-to meal to make at home for yourself or your family?

I love making Thai Food when I can. It reminds me of home when I was younger.  Thai flavors are a blend of sweet, spicy and salty, so I always try to incorporate that when I can.

Is there another restaurant in Plano where you love to eat?

Shumi Omakase is a hidden gem. I love watching Chef Kunihiko Aikasa and his team prepare right there in front of you.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse >

 

Rehan Bacchus on her wedding day, with Ma at left
Rehan Bacchus on her wedding day, with Ma at left

Rehan Bacchus
Taste of the Islands

Who inspired you to cook?

I was born in Georgetown, Guyana. My mom passed away in 1966 when I was four years old. My dad’s mother moved in with us. As a 10-year-old student in primary school, one of my subjects was home economics, which I absolutely loved – especially the baking and sewing, but not so much the cooking. We were taught to cook dishes like macaroni pies, pizza, burgers, etc.

My grandmother, “Ma,” was a great cook. She could cook all our traditional dishes like curries. But she had severe arthritis so she would sit close to the stove and would have me bring her all the ingredients for whatever meal she was cooking at the time. I didn’t pay much attention until maybe five years later. I learned what ingredients went into many dishes but not the exact amounts.

I got married to my husband Azaad in 1982, and Ma passed away that same year. We had a housekeeper who did most of the Guyanese dishes and I cooked the American foods. Fast forward to our move to Rowlett, Texas with our two sons, Irfaun and Irazaad, in 1989. I realized pretty quickly that I had to feed my family but did not know measurements for ingredients. Needless to say we ate a lot of meals with either a lot of salt or no salt at all.

In 1998 we moved our family to Plano. My husband and I were both working in retail. In January 2004 we were watching President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address, and he was encouraging Americans to start small businesses. We discussed what we should do and opened Taste of the Islands in April 2004, because while there were many different cuisines in Plano there were no Caribbean restaurants.

Taste of the Islands >

 

Salvatore Gisellu with his mother
Salvatore Gisellu with his mother

Salvatore Gisellu
Urban Crust

Who inspired you to cook?

The biggest influence is my mamma, Maria Testone. I grew up watching my mamma put genuine love into her cooking. We grew almost everything we ate on our family farm, and every spare moment of my week was spent either working the garden, canning, picking olives for our annual olive oil, milking the cows to make cheese or feeding the animals that were to be butchered for our next feast. And you do this at the age of 10, not realizing you’re learning an art, the art of food and cooking. 

It’s my family that continuously pushes my passion and career. My wife Jeanne-Marie and my sons Luca and Matteo are always at the forefront of what’s happening in food because they are passionate about health and trends around them.  Most people actually ask my wife, not me, for restaurant or recipe suggestions! 

What’s the first dish you remember making on your own?

The first meal I learned to make was pizza. I was 13. Before I went to school that day, I took a piece of bread dough from my mother’s batch, and hid it above the wood burning oven and let it proof until I got back at lunch time. When I got home, I stretched it thin in a sheet pan, spread some pomodoro sauce, our housemade cheese, a few anchovies and asked her to bake it. It was the best and first pizza I made! 

What is your go-to meal to make at home for yourself or your family?

Our go-to meal is definitely pasta, from housemade pomodoro to aglio e olio, bottarga or fresh seafood. 

Is there another chef in Plano that you admire?

I do like Chef Jörg from Café Vienna. He has a great passion for food, is a good friend and family man. And I thought I had an accent–what about him? Madonna! 

Urban Crust >

 

Uno Immanivong with her mother (at left); Uno with Anthony Bourdain (at right)
Uno Immanivong with her mother (at left); Uno with Anthony Bourdain (at right)

Uno Immanivong
Red Stix Asian Street Food

Who inspired you to cook?

The first person is my mom, she taught me the art of Laotian food. Growing up she would cater Asian weddings to make ends meet. She also made dinner every night since we were on a budget and eating out was a luxury. My mom was the master of making the dollar stretch by finding creative and delicious ways to utilize every part of the protein and vegetables. If she bought a chicken she would use the white meat for stir fry, the wings and legs would get fried to pair with papaya salad, and any leftover bones, skin, and meat would be used for rice soup. I fondly remember pulling up a chair to the kitchen counter and watching her cook for hours. That experience made me the chef that I am today, by adapting my personal cooking style to the flavors and techniques of my childhood. 

I was a mortgage banker for 16 years and I didn’t believe I could make a career by doing what I love until I met the late Anthony Bourdain, my second biggest influencer. I had the privilege of being on his team in a cooking competition. Making Laotian food, eating and drinking with him broke through a belief system that anything is possible. After the show, I returned to Dallas and found an investor that helped me create my first restaurant, Chino Chinatown. 

What’s the first dish you remember making on your own?

When I was seven years old, I made my first meal, Mama brand ramen noodles. This “Uno-fied” version was an after school snack with a sliced hot dog, ketchup and whatever vegetables we had in the fridge. Right before serving I would crack an egg on top so the yolk would still be runny.

What is your go-to meal to make at home for yourself or your family?

There are lots of late nights in this industry and occasionally I forget to eat. When those nights happen, I look forward to my comfort food, hibachi chicken fried rice. I get the cast iron skillet screeching hot, add coconut oil, rotisserie chicken, two Vital Farms eggs until the albumen turns white and then I scramble, one package of Uncle Ben’s Ready Made jasmine rice, minced garlic, soy sauce, Worcestershire, salt, pepper and a heaping dollop of butter at the very end. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll add a sunny-up egg on top and garnish with cilantro, green onions and jalapeños.

Red Stix Asian Street Food >

 

Gabriel DeLeon (left) with Rick Bayless
Gabriel DeLeon with Rick Bayless (far right)

Gabriel DeLeon
Mi Dia from Scratch

Who inspired you to cook?

I would say my father [Juan DeLeon] was a very early influence on me because he was in the restaurant business. And my mom worked all day. He worked two jobs and he would come home and cook a super meal. He opened the restaurant for us in 1990 – La Margarita in Irving, it’s still there. Essentially he opened a restaurant to get us through college. Little did he know, I had different plans. I just was not focused in school, and he said, “Alright take a break from school.” He passed away five years after we opened the business and from there I went to culinary school.

As far as career. I would say Rick Bayless from Chicago. I walked into his restaurant in 1995 and it totally changed my perception of what authentic Mexican food is and that it’s doable in the U.S. I was just blown away because that’s the first time I saw Mexican dishes on a white plate used as a canvas. Back in the early days, in Tex-Mex, we’re using pink plates and aqua plates. That taught me that the plate, that’s your canvas. After that, I was on a mission. 

What’s the first dish you remember making on your own?

I was 11 or 12. I had to do a class presentation and I wanted to make an omelette in front of the class. My dad went and bought me like five or six dozen eggs and said, ‘Do it ‘til you get it right.’ There’s a secret trick to make a perfect omelette. You’ve got to roll it seamlessly in the pan. 

Is there another restaurant in Plano where you love to eat?

You know, I really like Mesero. For me, it’s very comforting. The one at Legacy West is beautiful, right in front of the fountain. 

Mi Dia from Scratch >

 

Kenny Bowers at a young age
Kenny Bowers at a young age

Kenny Bowers
Kenny’s Burger Joint, Kenny’s East Coast Pizza, Kenny’s Smoke House

Who inspired you to cook?

Ever since I was a little kid, I have always loved food. When I was eating breakfast, I wanted to know what was for dinner. I would always order the most interesting – and expensive – thing on the menu when we went out to eat. When my jeans got too tight, I learned the fine art of unbuttoning my pants while sitting at the table, for that little extra room.

The first dish I ever learned how to make was Chicken Parmesan. It’s still my favorite dish. Cooking and food was always a passion of mine, but I never thought it would be a career. That is, until I met my new brother-in-law, Carlo DeMarco. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and owned his own restaurant.

During my time working in the insurance business with my mentor Mel Sacks, I met Jack Chaplin, also from New England [Kenny is from a town near Boston], who at the time, around 1991 or 1992, had a collection of old Cadillacs that we had insured as a customer. Jack and I became friends, and he was a well-known chef in Dallas at the time. He opened up one of the first restaurants in Dallas to have a wood burning grill. 

He came in one day and told me that he had sold his restaurant but was going to open up a place near there that was going to serve seafood and chowder like we ate when we were little, growing up in the Northeast. I asked him if he wanted a partner, because at this time in my life, I was officially passionate about cooking and restaurateuring. 

After some thinking, he agreed! I put the money up and got 40 percent. The deal was that he was going to teach me the restaurant business. We opened up Daddy Jack’s on Greenville Ave in 1993. Jack taught me how to cook professionally. We worked side by side for almost three years.

What’s the first dish you remember making on your own?

The first meal I learned to make was Chicken Parmesan when I was eight years old.

What is your go-to meal to make at home for yourself or your family?

My go-to meal at home is usually something Italian.  Often it’s pizza or chicken wings.  I have a great oven-baked chicken wing recipe I can get on the table in 30 minutes.

Kenny's Burger Joint > Kenny's East Coast Pizza > Kenny's Smoke House >

 

Carmen Sanchez in the kitchen (at left); Carmen's mother (at right)
Carmen Sanchez in the kitchen (at left); Carmen’s mother (at right)

Carmen Sanchez
Casa Mama

Who inspired you to cook?

My mama had the biggest influence on me to start cooking.  I started cooking with her at the age of 15.  My mama always told us that we needed to be prepared for the future, which meant cooking and taking care of my future family. When I was 20, my mama passed away. I was left to take care of and cooked every meal for my four brothers for the next five years. I’m grateful for her influence. I first remember making corn tortillas from scratch at age 15. My first full meal I remember making was Enchiladas Mexicanas a few years after that. 

What is your go-to meal to make at home for yourself or your family?

Sopita (Noodle Soup) 

Casa Mama >

 

Chris Yao (center) with his mother and father
Chris Yao (center) with his mother and father

Chris Yao
Yao Fuzi

Who inspired you to cook?

My parents and my grandma. I was 15, watching my parents cooking together for every holiday. It brings back a lot of good childhood memories. The first meal I remember making on my own was fried rice and dumpling. I was 13.

What is your go-to meal to make at home for yourself or your family?

Dumpling or rice porridge.

Is there another restaurant in Plano where you love to eat?

I love to eat at Sushi Yama in Plano, and the Pho Mac on Preston Road. Simple food but very comfy.

Yao Fuzi >
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