By collaborating more with local chefs, Amarillo (Texas) Country Club’s Executive Chef, Colby Newman, hopes to help grow the local culinary scene.
When people think of Amarillo, Texas, there are a few things that come to mind. Palo Duro Canyon is one. The cattle and their “smell of money” that fills our city is another. And we can’t forget The Big Texan’s 72-oz. steak dinner (free if eaten in an hour).
The food scene has never brought people to the Panhandle, but that’s changing and we’re heading in a new direction. In the past, Amarillo was flooded with corporate dining chains. New, locally owned restaurants struggled to survive. They rarely made it past their first year. Of course, we still have chains, but several have closed as local establishments have begun to make their mark.
Country clubs might be thought of as places for the community’s wealthy, but by no means does that make me a better chef than anyone else in our city. It also doesn’t mean I want to stay in a separate bubble from the rest of our community.
My first priority is to serve our members, but I also want to help as well as learn from other local chefs. In the past, I’ve wanted to come up with some kind of a “club” for Amarillo chefs to come together and share ideas. The lack of time made it difficult to get something started. But, as I’ve become more established here in Amarillo, and my relationships with people in all areas of the food industry here have grown, getting local chefs together has finally become a reality.
I have an amazing relationship with my food and beverage distributor, Ben E. Keith Foods. I love them because they’re right here in Amarillo. The foodservice division serves 14 states, with 8 locations, but we have a division that’s only a 15-minute drive from the club. With their help, especially the help of my produce specialist, Marcus Calderon, we were able to get a group of local chefs together. The goal was to share ideas and struggles, to start connecting, and to support one another. If we want local places to survive, we need to work together to help make the restaurant scene stronger, rather than trying to compete against each other all the time. (Another goal of ours is to give back to our community by holding charitable and chef collaborative dinners throughout the year to help other local organizations.)
We had our first meeting a couple weeks ago, hosted by Ben E. Keith Foods, who is allowing us to do whatever we want with their full support. Working on this with Ben E. Keith is an excellent partnership because they have such a strong support for local restaurants. Our group will continue to grow, but our first meeting had about 20 chefs from a dozen establishments.
There were chefs from restaurants ranging from BBQ to fine dining. There were also young up-and-coming chefs as well as older chefs who have been a part of Amarillo’s food scene for quite a while. Our plan is to meet once a month, sometimes at Ben E. Keith and other times having dinner at one of the chef’s restaurants. Every now and then we want to pick some products from Ben E. Keith that we are unfamiliar with and have a specialist come in to help us better understand those products. We also want to collaborate when it comes to buying produce, putting orders together to help minimize costs, and to order certain products so there is a higher demand for them and they are more easily accessible to us.
The only challenging thing about trying to grow Amarillo’s dining scene is the lack of chefs we have here. There is no culinary school nearby, unemployment is extremely low, and Amarillo isn’t necessarily the place where a chef is eager to move when there’s little hope of a new restaurant surviving. But if we continue to make our local restaurants grow and stay strong, and begin to make a name for Amarillo, there might be hope to encourage other chefs to move here.
There is no doubt that Amarillo is growing in all areas of our community, but I want my members to be proud of the food our city has to offer beyond the club walls. Most people here do a lot of traveling to places like Santa Fe, Denver, Dallas, and Austin. And when they come back home we don’t want them to have that feeling that Amarillo is lacking in the food they love to eat when they travel.
At the same time, we have many people pass through Amarillo during their travels. We want locals to recommend them to a restaurant that’s not a chain, a place they can’t go to in their next destination and has them coming back to try something else we have to offer.
I’m looking forward to seeing what this club of ours will offer. I’m excited to share my strengths with others and to get advice for my weaknesses. It will make me a better chef and that will benefit not only my club but also my community. Amarillo is not well known for our food yet, but I think we’re surprising people with what we have to offer. And with each other’s support, we will put Amarillo on the map for dining.