|By Denise Neil, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 5, 2006 - David Wirebaugh is accustomed to cooking for crowds.
Back when the Hyatt's executive chef was a young man in the military, he would prepare four meals a day for 5,000 soldiers.
Now, 25 years and a distinguished career as a chef with the Hyatt hotel chain later, he's still cooking for crowds.
On a busy day, he and his staff of 35 will prepare as many as 3,000 meals just for Hyatt banquets. Then, they're on to the meals served in White Rock Cafe and the hotel's highly regarded fine dining restaurant, Southwinds Bar & Grill.
Wirebaugh, a father of four and a Kentucky native who has headed Hyatt kitchens in cities from Orlando to Albuquerque, sat down to talk about his lifelong passion for crowd-pleasing.
How did you first become interested in food?
My mom didn't cook. My father did all the cooking. As a child, I kind of watched him. Most of it was country cooking: Pot roast. Fried chicken. Fresh vegetables from the garden.
Besides your restaurant, where do you like to eat out in Wichita?
I enjoy P.F. Chang's. I love the atmosphere. And I like Redrock Canyon Grill. In late fall, it's so nice to go there and smell the wood burning outside.
What's your most indispensable kitchen tool?
My 12-inch Forschner knife.
What's your most indispensable kitchen ingredient?
Probably kosher salt. It just brings out the flavor of the food.
What do you cook when you're at home?
I'll typically grill out. I've got four girls, so I do a lot of pork chops and steaks. Their favorite is burgers, so we'll do cheeseburgers a lot.
What's your favorite dish?
My favorite dish is a one-and-a-half-pound fried whole red snapper. I marinate it in a little soy sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar and scallions then leave it an hour. I coat it with corn starch on both sides and deep-fat fry it until it's done. Then I make a little dipping sauce.
Are there any foods you don't like?
Just one -- chitlins. I can't get past the taste.
What's the best thing about the dining scene in Wichita?
I think in the three years I have been here, I've met all the top chefs in the city that are helping bring a new attention to the city. There's a lot more education about food. There are a lot of great restaurants here.
What's the worst thing?
The worst thing is that change can't come too quickly.
What's your philosophy or guiding principle about your job?
I think creating what the people like is the most important thing. In our jobs, it's important you possess the knowledge of the things you like. But it's most important to know what the customers and the community likes and be in tune to it.
Married with four daughters ages 4 to 20
Wirebaugh has trained with several European chefs through the Hyatt.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.
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