From weddings, to room service to running three restaurants, Theo Bawar heads it all up with the help of a large kitchen staff. The Executive Chef at The H Hotel in Downtown Midland, Bawar and the team are fresh off the opening of One Eighteen just last month.
Trained at New York Restaurant School, he spent the first part of his career in New York, working for the several of the large hotels in New York City including the Plaza Hotel, Paramount Hotel and the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square. He joined the broader Dolce Hotels & Resorts family in 2000 and came to Midland in 2008 to work for The H Hotel.
We caught up with Theo recently on developing the new ONe Eighteen menu, his favorite guilty pleasure and more.
Q: Can you walk us through the inspiration behind the new menu at ONe Eighteen and the process of planning it over the months of renovation?
A: The inspiration was classic American food, which is a mix of a little bit of everything, an eclectic of mixture of different cultures. We wanted to highlight some staples, recognizable comfort food, like macaroni and cheese, but with a twist here and there.
It’s a big menu and took us about four to five months to develop. There are about 35 to 37 menu items, compared to about 21 at Café Zinc. We also deliberately wanted to make it not an ‘occasion’ restaurant, something where guests never need a special reason to go out to dinner, you can just come in and have a burger during the week.
Q: What is your favorite thing on the menu currently at any of the spots in the hotel?
A: That's a tough one, because as a foodie, I just love to eat. At Café Zinc, I love the braised short rib dish.
I would say at ONe Eighteen, the cauliflower bites, to the Asian wings and the meatloaf are some of my favorites. Oh, the lobster roll, too.
It’s funny, after we spent a good four to five months to put the final menu together, a bunch my team and I tasting a bunch of options and iterations, I looked at the final menu and thought, ‘You know what? If I went to this restaurant without knowing any of the background, I would personally want to order at least 75 percent of this menu.’
That’s big, so I’m really happy with where we landed with the final menu and I’m proud that it offers something for everyone, like a rotating weekly vegan options and a fresh catch.
Q: What inspired you to become a chef?
A: I just wanted to learn how to cook. After high school, my parents wanted me to go to business school, and I found out that it just wasn’t for me. I finally convinced them that was what I wanted to pursue and they gave in.
Q: What is your favorite ingredient or spice to use?
A: If we asked my team what I like to use the most, they would probably say red pepper flake.
I like the spice it brings and the fact that I can control the heat level in a dish. Whether that is for a spicy sambal sauce or just adding a small touch in a broccoli parmesan to give it a little zing. So, I would say red pepper flake is one of my go-to ingredients, aside from fresh herbs.
I also love to use citrus zest – lemon, orange or lime. Finishing a dish with fresh zest just brings out the flavors really well.
Q: What is your guilty food pleasure?
A: Definitely chips. And here we make our house-made chips each day. Sometimes the variations are really simple, like potatoes with just some black pepper is a favorite, but we do chips so many different ways. We go through a legitimate amount of potatoes in the process, where even a full-time person is just slicing for chips and fries sometime.
Q: When you’re not here at the hotel, where do you go out to eat, let’s say on a date night?
A: I like Maru. They do some really good sushi and it’s consistent. My kids like it there too. They are kind of foodies. I don’t know how they picked that up…
Q: Speaking of… obviously you're very accomplished chef, New York City experience, etc. But at home, what are you known for?
A: I do lots of stir fry and my kids like that. They can be picky. They enjoy quick, fresh food and they don't like eating leftovers. I however, enjoy leftovers, especially cold pizza.
Q: Who is your chef inspiration?
A guy by the name of Frank Quant. He was one of the first chefs that inspired me. He taught me patience and creativity. I’ve tried to take that with me throughout my career, because it’s hard to learn from someone that is always yelling or throwing things in the kitchen. We still keep in touch.
Q: Take us behind the scenes… what is something the average dinner guest doesn’t know?
A: For Café Zinc, we always have our daily specials, whether that’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. And it's an opportunity to get creative and keep the dishes that are well received for future use. So that’s where some of our new menu items come from after we test and tweak them.
And for the hotel overall, it takes a ton of effort to seamlessly execute all the things we do. On any given day we manage the operations of the three restaurants, room service for the hotel, weddings or other large events, outside catering, aviation catering for local corporate and private flights, special orders, cooking for the staff cafeteria, plus anything else that comes up.
It’s not just slice, dice and cook, there are so many moving parts behind the scenes.
Q: What is your go to comfort food?
A: Lasagna for sure. It’s one of the first things that my mother taught me how to cook, which is kind of funny because we're Filipinos from the Philippines and that is one of the first things I remember her teaching me how to cook.
It’s not too dry, not too soggy – it’s just right.