"In the Kitchen" recently for a grill-side chat with Executive Chef Bill Gideon I came to understand what a treasure we have at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. Chef Gideon began his 37 year culinary career as a young boy in Hannibal, Missouri, when at the age of 5 he made scrambled eggs for his family. In love with cooking ever since, Gideon has been cooking professionally since age fourteen when he stepped up as a dishwasher to join the line as a cook when one of the cooks failed to show up for work. Currently handling all aspects of food and beverage at Seminole Hard Rock, the 6th largest casino in the world, he oversees nine operations and 300+ team members catering to the property's 10,000 to 20,000 guests per day. It takes a special person and is no easy task! So, how does he do it? Let's head into the kitchen with Chef Gideon for a peek into his world.
A Man With Experience
It's not everyday you meet a man who has cooked for Kings, Queens, Presidents and the esteemed Julia Child so I have to admit, I was a bit nervous when I arrived for my interview. His warm smile and gracious manner quickly put me at ease. As Executive Chef since 2011, Gideon walks approximately 10 to 20 miles a day overseeing preparation of 10,000 or more meals to be cheerfully served in the casino's 8 restaurants on any weekend.
While this may seem overwhelming, Chef Gideon's vast experience cooking world-wide in 5 Star hotels, casinos and his own restaurants prepared him for what he considers the culmination of his career. He enjoys being "constantly busy" in a atmosphere where "every meal is important" and finds it exciting to "be at the top of my game everyday" says Chef Gideon.
Chef Gideon is not a man to rest on his laurels, a true leader he works hard constantly creating and making sure dining at the casino is a destination. Chef Gideon believes you're "only as good as what you do tomorrow, not today", carefully guiding young chefs in his restaurant’s he asks questions like, "what are we going to do tomorrow" and "how are we going to set ourselves apart from what everyone else is doing in the area?”
Dedicated to the art of "cooking from scratch" I was amazed to learn that 90% of everything served at the casino is scratch made. Chef Gideon oversees the charcuterie program in Fresh Harvest, the restaurant supplying all sausage served at the casino as well as the bakery in Rise Kitchen & Bakery where bread is baked fresh daily.
Chef Gideon loves the farm to table concept and strives to support local farms by using farm driven products and produce throughout the casino. "We embrace anything local and use local products in all of our restaurants. We bring in things from different farms and local purveyors and try to use local products as much as we can" say Gideon. With the growing number of farms and local purveyors in the Tampa Bay community, this may sound easy but "the challenge is finding a local purveyor who can keep up with our numbers." For example, if the Hard Rock Cafe wants to serve a specially grown lettuce on their Club Sandwich, the local farm must be able to supply 45,000 leaves a week! That's a lot for any grower unless it's mass produced. Despite the challenges, Chef Gideon is finding a way to make it happen and is embracing local in small batches whenever possible throughout the casino.
The Biggest Challenge
As you can imagine, a man who oversees this many employees and restaurants must have many challenges. What does he feel is his biggest challenge? Making sure he communicates well with all of the members of his extensive team. "I wish cooking was all I did now because you miss that piece of being on the stove. I got to where I am today because I'm a great cook but, great cooks don't always make the great leaders. Part of my job here is to be inspirational, to make sure that my employees are happy and to give our customers, who expect everything, what they want" said Gideon.
I asked Chef Gideon, this amazing man who over the course of his career has cooked for the Clinton’s, King Hussein and Queen Rania of Hordan, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Sylvester Stallone and Julia Child, if you could cook for anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? His answer was surprising. First on his guest list, the immortal Jonny Cash, "Simply for the conversations we would have." Then, as a native of Hannibal, Missouri, he chose hometown hero Mark Twain as second on his list, "Because of the jokes and laughter we would enjoy!"
In closing I asked Chef Gideon which celebrity made him most nervous in the kitchen, he replied, "Definitely Julia Child, I was popping open oysters with her in the kitchen used on her television show. I'm usually a fast oyster guy but I went to open it I thought about who I was opening the oyster for and got nervous. Sweating, I could not open the oyster!” Julia grabbed it out of my hand and had to open it herself.”
Many thanks to Chef Bill Gideon for sharing his time "In the Kitchen" with me!