Popular Local Chefs Share Stories, Tips, and Favorite Recipes
● By Kylie Cooper
BKK Thai Kitchen + Bar
Bringing a taste of home to others is what Ben Hague, head chef at BKK Thai Kitchen + Bar, is all about. Her story begins in Thailand and travels to several other countries before it finally makes its way here to Corpus Christi.
Ben lived in Thailand for the first eight years of her life. It was there her passion for cooking began—almost without her even knowing it. She wasn’t allowed to go outside and play until she helped her mom in the kitchen. After Thailand, her family moved to Saudi Arabia and she spent the next ten years of her life there. It wasn’t until one of her high school teachers told her she should move to the States and attend culinary school that she realized she truly had a passion for cooking.
“It wasn’t really a love at first sight thing for me,” Ben says with a laugh, “but once I started learning more of the actual process behind everything…that’s when I fell in love.”
Living and traveling to numerous countries around the world has had a heavy influence on Ben and her cooking style. Being able to experience so many different cultures has helped her understand the value in different types of foods, and she enjoys exploring those cultures. “My dad is British and my mom is Thai,” she says. “So I am accustomed to curries, but I also love a good shepherd’s pie.”
Ben’s biggest inspiration when it comes to the kitchen is being able to create and cook for others. She enjoys cooking what others are craving and strives to make others happy with her dishes. “Being inspired by what others are craving is probably one of my driving forces,” she says. “I want to create for them.”
While being the head chef at one of the newest and trendiest restaurants in town might be intimidating, her hardest clients to please are her three and five-year-old sons at home. “The kitchen is intense, but those kids are my toughest critics,” she jokes.
Her love for food and creation flows out of Ben when she speaks. The way she talks about authentic cooking and ingredients is inspiring and it definitely shows when you take a bite of anything she whips up for you.
Shoreline Sandwich Co.
In the duration of our 18-minute interview, Chef Kris said the word ‘goofball’ a total of 32 times. He is lighthearted and brings a certain sense of childlike wonder to the kitchen with him. Kris, the owner and head chef of Shoreline Sandwich Company, describes himseld as a hustler and it is evident as to why. With his downtown, uptown, and soon to be South Side locations of the restaurant, Kris is bringing a fresh and creative take to the food industry here in Corpus Christi.
“I just want to wrench people’s minds,” he says with a smirk. “I want people to think ‘who is this guy?’ when they see what kind of weird food I’m making—I’m not making the same things your mother makes.”
Kris obtained his chef expertise by learning under one of Food and Wine’s best new chefs. He moved back to Denver, Colorado after working an uninspired furniture delivery job here in town. He wanted something more. “I always had an appetite for cooking,” he recalls. “I knew how to cook and I loved it, but restaurant cooking is a whole different ball game, and I wanted to play.”
Shortly after—and many opened doors later—Kris opened up the Downtown location of Shoreline Sandwiches, and the rest is history.
His passion for cooking, he says, comes initially from his mom. He describes his mother as the ultimate entertainer and he always admired that about her. However, when it comes down to it, he says the backbone of his love for cooking comes from the concept of hospitality. “I love all aspects of food,” he says. “I like learning about it, I like watching it, I like seeing what other people create; but, the backbone of it all is hospitality—changing someone’s day with a meal is what it’s all about.”
“I know I am doing what I was meant to do,” Kris says as he wraps up his final thoughts. “It’s goofball, but it works.”
AKA Sushi Bar
If you have ever had the opportunity to experience the downtown dining scene, chances are you’ve come across Chef Boyd. He is serious about his craft, but somehow manages to add a little humor in when the opportunity presents itself.
Boyd’s love and passion for cooking stems all the way back to the jungles of Laos. He would help his grandmother prepare for meals by going out and picking leaves and peppers for her. “I didn’t know it at the time,” he says, “but that really is where it all started.”
Boyd came to America in 1980 and took a dishwashing job at a Japanese restaurant in Washington D.C. “I just needed money,” he says with a laugh, “so I took the job.” Two months into the job, a kitchen worker quit and the chef needed some extra help. Boyd simply helped him cut up vegetables that day, and three months later he was running the whole kitchen. Six months after that he was promoted to head chef and that is when he knew he had found his career.
He mentions "the basics" a lot when speaking about food and how important it is to know the basis of what you are doing. He brought that viewpoint with him to AKA and was able to create a whole new menu for them in 2014. When he came to the Downtown location he noticed how open people were to trying new things and so he put his twist on the dishes and things took off. “I get bored with things easily,” Boyd says in regards to recreating the AKA menu. “So I got creative and changed it up.”
His dishes at AKA are simple and fresh—which coincides with his back to basics mantra. He enjoys creating dishes that take you back to the beginnings of how they were made and then adding small twists of fusion when necessary. “The rice has to be right, the fish has to be fresh,” he says. “There is a right way to do sushi and once you have that down, you can add to it.”
Chef Boyd’s outlook on both life and food are the same. “Life is hard as it is already,” he says. “You have to enjoy the process—that’s the most important part. A lot of people don’t get the same opportunities as we do, so you have to enjoy it.”______________________________________________________________________________________
The Blue Clove
Antonio Posada is reserved and quite. He doesn’t say much, but rather lets his cooking do most of the talking. Both his business and his life are family oriented. When walking into his restaurant, the Blue Clove, you are immediately greeted with smiling faces and a warm welcome from everyone inside. There is a certain type of environment he has created inside The Blue Clove—you instantly feel at home.
Antonio first moved to the United States in the early 1980s from Aguascalientes, Mexico. He was having a hard time finding work when the Yacht Club offered him his first job in America. He gladly took the job and started merely as a dishwasher. He quickly moved up the ladder and eventually landed himself the position of head chef. After both learning and cooking there for about 20 years, Antonio finally decided to partner with his son, and thus, The Blue Clove was created.
“It’s family,” Antonio says as he reminisces back to the beginning of the restaurant. “It is like getting to cook at home with your son every day, except it is work.”
At the end of the day, for Antonio, food is happiness. It really is as simple as that for him. He finds joy in seeing people sit together and enjoy a good meal over a conversation. He hopes that both his restaurant and his food provides that for others. The Blue Clove can be best described as a seafood restaurant with a slight Mexican twist. Their menu is filled with delicious dishes all thought up by Antonio and his son. He tries to consistently incorporate new dishes into his menu and is inspired by the work of others. “I’ll see a dish I’ve never seen before and I just want to learn from the plate,” he says. “Being a chef is a lot of fun, but it also provides an opportunity of infinite knowledge. There are so many types of dishes out there to make and that really inspires me.”______________________________________________________________________________________
Karey Swartwout is a breath of fresh air. There was no shortage of laughter in the Rockport based restaurant, GLOW, when we paid her a visit. Karey, the owner and head chef, has a deep passion for food and everything it encompasses. You can tell how much she cares about her ingredients and process—watching her cook is something else.
GLOW, at its core, focuses on simple foods with ingredients you can taste. She explains that the majority of their menu items have no more than five ingredients in order to force people to taste what they are supposed to be tasting in the dish. “It forces you to keep the core ingredients in your meals at their best,” Karey says, “because otherwise what it the point!”
The way she cares for her ingredients stems from her philosophy of why food is so important. “Cooking and eating is the oldest thing known to man,” she says. “There are basics to it that are so vital.” She explains that knowing where your food comes from and understanding flavors is one of the core building blocks to being a good cook.
“Truly, I think food is just so important,” Karey says when asked about the gathering aspect of food. “Growing up and everywhere I have traveled, food for everyone is a personal and gathering experience, she says.” She explains that is the reasoning behind her close-knit feel she has created in the restaurant. She wanted her patrons to be reminded of what the food experience is supposed to be like. “I want to preserve food and the way we experience it—that is what makes you whole and we are really getting away from it.” Karey’s passion for food comes from how often she has been around it and influenced by it throughout her life. Her mom was from New Orleans and her dad always had a deep love for food, so flavor was a big part of her life growing up. While living in London, she owned her own catering business for about 9 years and picked up British and French influences and brought them with her back to America when opening up GLOW.