Michael Stephans, executive chef for SAVOR Corpus Christi, talks about his love for food and his community.
By: Kristen Bily
Photos by: Aaron & Andrew Medina of SKIP Entertainment
The journey that led Executive Chef Michael Stephans to the culinary world is one of great experiences. Born and raised in a neighborhood of Chicago, Chef Mike has always had a love for food. While in school, Chef Mike got his first job in the business as a fish butcher at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, then on to Swiss Hotel after that. His first job after graduating culinary school was working contract feeding with Canteen Company at the Jewel Corporate office. This set him on to his career as a chef.
After getting a taste of that sector of F&B, he found a love for volume cooking. As an American Culinary Federation member, Chef Mike was involved in working with the community, and he began teaching classes through Ivy Tech State College for students seeking personal enrichment. That led to a position as Hospitality Administration Program chair, a position he held for five years.
Making roots in Corpus Christi, Texas, Chef Mike immediately got involved in the Texas Chefs Association, Corpus Christi chapter. He soon became director of the chapter, promoting cooking and culinary arts in Corpus Christi and working to build relationships with area businesses and not-for-profits. I recently sat down with Chef Mike to learn a little more about his world:
Q: If you could eat dinner with any famous chef, past or present, who would it be, and why?
A: I would have to say Julia Child. Even though her focus was to get American home cooks to understand the art of French cooking, her approach to education and access to good food was a serious undertaking. She was the premier TV chef. She got people interested in food and cooking, and opened up the airwaves to a conclave of chefs who perform the art of cooking on today’s world stage.
Q: What do you do to stay current on new trends? Describe two or three of the most interesting industry trends and how you bring them to the American Bank Center.
A: There are many ways to access trends. I’m a member of the American Culinary Federation ‘s Texas Chefs Association, and chapter director of the TCA Chefs of the Coastal Bend. As a member, I have access to a huge network of chefs, monthly periodical, website full of information and a variety of blogs.
My favorite current trends are the Farm to Table movement and sourcing local ingredients. I have been working with farmers since the ‘90s when I lived in South Bend, Ind., and would frequent the local farmers’ market and drive through the backroads of Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana, stopping at farm stands along the way. I continue to enjoy that here in Corpus Christi, partnering up with Grow Local STX, providing cooking demos and food sampling to patrons a couple Wednesdays a month.
Local (Texas) products are available through some of my distributors and try to take advantage of that as often as possible.
Q: Are you curious of other cuisines (Chinese, Italian, etc.)? Have you ever adapted a recipe from another country and incorporated it into a menu item for an event?
A: I was brought up in Chicago and was exposed to world flavors early in life. I lived near Chinatown, and grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. I still embrace most of those early food memories; therefore, I try to integrate them whenever possible. Today, these flavors are all the rage! I have incorporated them on several menus, even bringing a puh puh platter, variety of Asian inspired appetizers, to our suites menu.
Q: You have received numerous accolades for your accomplishments in the culinary world, and still, to this day, you are very active within the community for all things cuisine. What advice would you give other local chefs (current or aspiring) looking to grow in this industry?
A: Get involved! When I moved to Indiana after graduating culinary school, one of my vendors told me about ACF and invited me to attend a meeting and meet fellow chefs in the area. This was an eye-opening experience. I met chefs from the area and learned how they shared their skill by getting involved in the community, mentoring young culinarians part of a national apprenticeship program, sharing ideas and focusing on continuing education for chefs.
This year, our local chapter had the opportunity to host the Texas Chefs Convention in Corpus Christi, bringing chefs from across the state to gather for master classes, seminars taught by local beekeepers, extension services, brewers and distillers, and enjoy meals prepared by local chefs.
Continue learning. Trends change quickly, so keep up with what’s going on throughout the county and the world.
For more information, contact Catering Sales at the American Bank Center.