Christopher Creek and Kohl’s Ranch will make a good showing at the March 7 A Taste of Rim Country. Both Kohl’s Ranch Zane Grey Steakhouse and Creekside Steakhouse & Tavern will have representatives at the 5 p.m. event at the Payson Public Library.
Cindy Fitch, owner of Creekside Steakhouse, and Kevin DeWitt, executive chef at Kohl’s Ranch Zane Grey Steakhouse, are both participating.
Fitch bought Creekside in September. “I’m one of Olive’s girls. I worked for John and Olive (Matus, founders of Creekside) for eight years.”
She grew up in the culinary business. Her family did the concessions for both the Oakland A’s and Chicago Cubs for years, and she has worked in the fast-food industry for many years. As owner of Creekside, she does just about everything, she said.
The most popular dishes she prepares for guests at the restaurant are steaks and ribs, shrimp, cobblers and salads with her own special dressing. However, her favorite thing to eat is Mexican food. Her family’s favorite dish is her spaghetti sauce, which she makes with meat and fennel.
She rarely puts anything complicated together for her guests — her motto is “keep it simple” — it is also the trade secret she is willing to share.
Even keeping things simple can sometimes create crises though.
“I was cooking for about 180 kids and made a pot roast. I made brown gravy to go with it, but there was not enough, so I grabbed what I thought was a can of more brown gravy and dumped it into the pot. Toward the bottom of it I discovered I’d put a can of beans in it instead.”
Another time, she was making french fries and accidentally added paprika to them. But it was a happy accident; customers were sending compliments back about the potatoes.
Fitch said the hardest part of her job is leaving at night. “I don’t want to leave. I love it so much.”
For those considering pursuing a professional career in cooking, Fitch advises starting at the bottom, bussing tables or doing dishes. “Don’t leave until everyone is ready to go,” she said.
Fitch said she might do a cookbook with family recipes in the future, but for now she is focused on her restaurant.
“I’d like Creekside to come back and be able to give back to the community. I hope people will give us a try again,” she said.
Her plans for A Taste of Rim Country include ribs and cobbler, and possibly small salads.
Start young and work hard
Kevin DeWitt is not yet 30, but he is well-known around the Rim Country for his skills as a chef.
He began learning about cooking when he was just 4, standing on a stool and watching his aunt or grandmother cook.
“I think I made my first meal when I was 8. My daughter does the same thing, stands on a stool and watches while my wife cooks.”
His aunt was big in the New Orleans culinary industry and his grandmother was always baking from scratch.
DeWitt has been at Kohl’s Ranch Zane Grey Steakhouse for a little more than two years. He has also worked at Fargo’s Steakhouse and at the restaurants at both Chaparral Pines and The Rim Club. He has participated in A Taste of Rim Country for about three years, he said.
With his love of cooking, he started learning the business by attending the East Valley Institute of Technology’s culinary program in high school and then went on to earn an associate’s degree from the Art Institute of Phoenix.
DeWitt enjoys cooking so much he cannot name his favorite dish to prepare, but his favorite thing to eat is gumbo. His family’s favorites are his bread pudding and a dish called “Chicken Saltimbocca” — a chicken breast wrapped in thinly sliced prosciutto ham seared to golden brown, with mushrooms and tomato, sambuca, cream and Parmesan cheese, served with pasta.
He said the most complicated dish he has prepared was a layered appetizer that included fried eggplant disks, quail stuffing, roasted ratoutille and ferinata, which is chickpea flour fried in olive oil. “Each component took an hour to make,” DeWitt said.
His biggest disaster in the kitchen is not too uncommon — he dropped a souffle. As for the hardest part of his job: it’s keeping everyone organized. At Kohl’s, depending on the season, he has four to six cooks, seven servers and two to three dishwashers.
Asked about cooking tips, DeWitt said with so many cooking shows on now, there are not many things people don’t know. However, he said cooks need to build flavors slowly, combining ingredients and then tempering them with a small amount of salt to enhance the flavor. He added it is also important to remember to let meats rest after cooking. “It gives the fibers a chance to relax.”
There are no trade secrets or magic involved in being a successful professional chef.
“It’s hard work and it takes a long time. Going to a culinary school isn’t the magic answer.”
DeWitt said someone interested in becoming a professional chef should start training as young as possible, working with a good chef and learning as much as possible from them, and then going to school.
“Keep seeking out good chefs to learn from,” he said.
DeWitt said he probably will not be writing a cookbook, but at some point he does hope to have his own restaurant.
“But I’m fairly happy here,” he said.
DeWitt said he would probably bring a blue cheese souffle appetizer and possibly Crème Brulé to the Taste of Rim Country event. But he might also bring some of his special Kohl’s Ranch jerky. If he does, grab a piece and hold on because it has a kick.