|By Victor R. Martinez, El Paso Times,
TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 6, 2009--EL PASO -- It wasn't long ago when Ron Fineron was standing in the middle of the Coronado Country Club kitchen wearing rubber boots and holding a water hose.
Call it his introduction to the glamorous world of fine dining.
Some first taste.
"I was serving table-side desserts at the Coronado Country Club," Fineron said, explaining how he developed a passion for cooking. "We had to do the old classics like Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee and the whole prep of getting everything ready before we went out, and I fell in love with that. I approached Greg (Gregorio Diaz, former executive chef at the country club) and asked him for a shot in the kitchen, and he said, 'Yeah buddy, you want to cook?'"
Fineron simply smiled at those memories as he sat in the middle of the 180-seat Fire Restaurant and Bar on the ground floor of the DoubleTree El Paso Downtown/City Center Hotel."I went from lead server to dishwasher," Fineron said, still smiling. "Greco threw me in the pits. He said, 'You've got to start cleaning the kitchen. Did you think you were going to cook that quick? No way, buddy.' I learned a new respect for that position because it's a very important position."
Fineron is now in charge of his own kitchen and a staff of eight chefs at the 17-story, 200-room upscale Downtown hotel.Although the hotel may be upscale, Fineron is keeping the menu what he calls "chef friendly."
"We are trying to establish a place where foodies can come in as well as people who aren't; that way there is no food snobbery involved," he said. "We want a very comfortable restaurant that is casual elegant."
The focus of Fire is to make sure the lunch hamburger at $8.95 is just as important as the $42 Porterhouse steak they serve at dinner.
"Of course service is very important and the atmosphere is very important, but our focus is really the food," he said. "Everyone back there who is cooking each and every dish is taking our food to heart. It's very passionate for us. We don't think we are worldly or anything else except really good cooks. We try to make that shine in each and every one of our dishes."
Fire serves American fusion food including steaks, seafood and Italian dishes.
"I like what the restaurant has to offer," said El Pasoan Gracie Mendes, who was recently having lunch at the restaurant. "My husband brought me here for dinner a few weeks ago and we absolutely fell in love with it. It really tastes and looks like fine dining but at reasonable prices for what you get."
Fineron, 38, has a long and colorful history in El Paso restaurants and private clubs with several stops at the Coronado Country Club where he got his start.
"It just kind of all fell into place," he said. "It was never a conscious decision. I never got out of high school and said, 'I'm going to be a chef.' It all just kind of happened. I look back and say, 'Wow, I've been cooking for 12 or 15 years. That's a long time and it went by like that!"
He was co-owner and executive chef of the short-lived Scorpio's Restaurant on the West Side in 2001 before returning to the Coronado Country Club. There he was sous chef under Alfredo Garibay until Fineron left to be executive chef at the El Paso Surf Club Big City Restaurant on Yandell in 2007.
He also worked alongside El Paso chef Sergio Martinez of Back Burner fame.
"Working with such great chefs has prepared me well," Fineron said. "I've worked in big places and country clubs and I've always been very service driven. I've always gone out to the tables. I'm not one to hide out in the back of the kitchen."
What is also interesting about Fineron's rise is he has done it without the benefit of a formal culinary education.
"I've never been to culinary school," he said. "I've been lucky to work under some great chefs who took me under their wing and showed me how it's done. That's what it's about, passing on the knowledge."
And that's exactly what Fineron is doing with those who work under him now.
"Before I started to work with him, I was about to get out of the business," said Sean Anchondo, a 22-year-old line chef at DoubleTree who has worked with Fineron for two years. "He's a great teacher and he is really good at what he does. I've learned everything from him. I went to culinary school (Arizona Culinary Institute) and I've learned more from him than what I did at culinary school."
Anchondo said Fineron has inspired him to work hard enough to someday run his own kitchen.
"I want to learn as much as I can from Ron and be a head chef and be running my own kitchen by the time I'm 25," he said. "You really don't see a lot of young guys doing it, most of them run their own kitchens when they are in their 30s but I like to set my goals high. He has inspired me to do that."
Fineron takes pride in the teamwork his kitchen displays at every service.
"We have 17 things going on at the same time," he said. "We have (someone on the) cutting board cutting meat. Soup boiling in the back. We have a sauce right here. We are on the phone. We are yelling at each other, all kinds of things going on," he said. "You've got to be able to multi-task in this business."
And Fineron would not have it any other way.
"I love it," he said. "I love the drama, the yelling and the screaming and the adrenaline of the rush when it comes. It's all part of my personality. I could never do an office job. I would go nuts."
Victor R. Martinez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6128.
About the chef --Name: Ron Fineron.
--Occupation: Executive chef at the 180-seat Fire Restaurant and Bar on the ground floor of the DoubleTree El Paso Downtown/City Center Hotel.
--Jobs: Started as a server, then a dishwasher, a sous chef and finally an executive chef at the Coronado Country Club. Worked with Sergio Martinez at the Back Burner Bistro, was co-owner and executive chef of the short-lived Scorpio's Restaurant on the West Side and executive chef at the El Paso Surf Club Big City Restaurant on Yandell in 2007.
Try it out --What: Fire Restaurant and Bar.
--Where: On the ground floor of the DoubleTree El Paso Downtown/City Center Hotel, 600 N. El Paso.
--Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
--Information: 532-8733, ext. 210.
--On the menu: The American-fusion restaurant includes such items as Delaware crab cakes, wild mahi-mahi, Kurobuta pork chops, rib-eye steak, New York strip steak and porterhouse steak on its dinner menu; along with hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, both served with sweet potato fries, on its lunch menu.
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Copyright (c) 2009, El Paso Times, Texas
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