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Chef Chat: Michael Rhoades, Executive Chef of the Newly Renovated
 Holiday Inn and CoCo Key Water Resort, Omaha, Nebraska

By Nichole Aksamit, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sep. 27, 2007 - Since arriving on the Omaha culinary scene 12 years ago, chef Michael Rhoades has worked in four restaurants (including three he helped launch) and headed kitchens at a country club and a downtown hotel.

His resume reveals a man not afraid to climb ladders, take a plunge or make a splash.

It is, perhaps, fitting then that the England-born, Dallas-trained chef now works in a hotel that's home to five dining establishments, six kitchens, nearly 4,000 banquet seats and a big, splashy water park.

We caught up recently with the 42-year-old executive chef of the newly renovated Holiday Inn and CoCo Key Water Resort, which had its grand opening Wednesday.

Q. How long have you been cooking?

A. My first job was in my father's restaurant (the Timberline Inn steakhouse) in Evergreen, Colo., when I was about 8 or 9 -- peeling potatoes, scrubbing pots and busing tables. . . . I started waiting tables when I was 16. . . . I went to culinary school at 27 and graduated when I was 31.

Q. You've worked at French Cafe, Flatiron Cafe, Champions Run Country Club, the former Donia and Buca di Beppo and, most recently, the Doubletree Hotel. When did you join the Holiday Inn?

A. February.

Q. In a hotel with so many dining areas -- private party and banquet rooms, Benton's restaurant, Wet Rooster bar, A&W, Pizza Hut Express and the Scooter's Coffeehouse that's under construction -- what is your role?

A. Hiring, training, overseeing all the kitchens, cost, ordering, purchasing, receiving, scheduling, reprimanding, accolade-ing. Every stitch of food that moves through this big place is ultimately my responsibility.

Q. Do you get to cook at all?

A. I do cook -- some. It's kind of a shame that that's the best thing I do, and I spend so much time not cooking.

Q. What's a day like for you?

A. Today, I got in at 5 (a.m.) for a Big Red Breakfast at 6:45. It was small, only about 200 people. . . . Then I stepped outside, enjoyed a cup of coffee, watched the sun rise. . . . Now I have to finish cutting 500 steaks for a wedding tonight and start on 650 for an event tomorrow. Maybe this afternoon I'll take a short break, answer e-mails and get an hour of sleep. Then I'll be working on food for the wedding. I'll probably go home around 10 after getting a few things in order for tomorrow.

Q. Is Benton's still the main hotel restaurant?

A. Yes. And it's soon (in the next five or six months) to be called Tradewinds. We've revamped its menu to be more of a steakhouse. It used to be more hamburgers, quesadillas, salads. . . . But 83 percent of our revenue is actually through banquet and catering.

Q. Have you had a chance to try out the water park?

A. Yes. My kids (ages 8, 10 and 12) left clawmarks on the way out. My boy, the thrill-seeker, now of course wants a body tube (slide) installed in our house. The girls liked the lazy river.

Q. Your last two stints have been hotels. What's the appeal?

A. I've loved working in restaurants. But you get to a certain level and you want to try the next step, and then the next step.

Q. So, what's your next step?

A. A Michael Rhoades restaurant. . . . I have a plan in my head that, once my kids have grown to teenagers and are done with me, I'll pursue that. My wife has other ideas.


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